Today on the cover of its Westchester section, The New York Times published a story "An Island, Untamed and Divided" by reporter Caitlin Kelly on Hen Island, an island in Rye’s harbor that many of us don’t know exist and most of us have never visited. MyRye.com recently visited the island, and will publish photos later this week of the island and its various homes so our readers can get a sense of the place.
The New York Times piece describes the 30 acre island that exists sans running water, electricity and sewage systems and has just 34 homes and then reviews the ongoing controversy concerning this little piece of paradise:
"TO some eyes, it’s a piece of paradise, a tree-covered island on Long Island Sound with sculptured stone outcroppings shadowed by ancient maples and pines. The silence is stunning, the only sounds coming from jets high overhead and squawking gulls…. Houses come up for public sale only every decade or so.
Ten minutes from Rye by motorboat, the enclave of privately owned cottages remains deliberately and determinedly primitive, with no running water, electricity or sewage systems. Light and heat are provided through individually owned generators or through propane, stored outside homes in tall tanks. There are no roads and no year-round residents…
But the tranquility is threatened by a bitter and protracted dispute over the island’s future.
Ray Tartaglione, a homeowner here for 11 years, has challenged the way of life by insisting that the city and the county provide sewage and water and ensure there is no sewage leaking into the Sound. Mr. Tartaglione, who formerly served on the seven-member board of the island’s homeowners corporation, including a stint as president, has filed three lawsuits since 2003, against the co-op and the city, over what he contends are unsafe and unsanitary conditions and violations of zoning laws."
Reporter Kelly interviewed several island residents including Ben Minard, the current co-op board president (the island runs as a cooperative); Helen Tierney who has her home on Hen Island’s southern-most point currently for sale (see our additional photos later this week); Ray Tartaglione who has brought three lawsuits all around the poor environmental conditions on the island; and two additional homeowners Peter Barotz and Claudio Iodice. Kelly also interviewed Leonard S. Meyerson, deputy commissioner of environmental health for Westchester.
In the article, Meyerson seems dismissive of Tartaglione’s concerns including un-policed sewage discharge after visits to the island in 2007:
"“It’s definitely a neighborhood fight.” He [Meyerson] said that he inspected the island in July and August 2007 and that members of his staff also visited on two other occasions to check for unsanitary conditions.
“There are definitely systems in place that in the modern world, scrutinized by an engineer, would not be acceptable,” he said. But he said he and his staff never found problems like sewage emerging, odors or slime or algal growth in the water. “We went time and time and time again,” Mr. Meyerson said, “and we found no health code violations.”
Mr. Meyerson said it was ultimately the responsibility of the corporation and the board to regulate themselves. “This is a private property, and you have to respect their private property rights,” he said. “It’s a balancing act.”"
Long Island Soundkeeper Terry Backer has called for testing to determine if there is an environmental issue or not. Strangely, Mayor Steve Otis, Rye City Manager Paul Shew or other Rye city officials were not quoted in the article.
UPDATE: Rye Mayor Steve Otis has told us he was not contacted by the Times for the Hen Island story.