Letter from the ICB: Yale Study News

by Jane Ahrens

June 18, 2014

To the Fishers Island Community:

Over the past two years, the Yale Urban Design Workshop has been conducting a study of Fishers Island. In March, a working draft of their report, Sustaining Fishers Island – A blueprint for protecting the future, was posted on www.fishersisland.net. In response, and as hoped, a number of communication channels have been established to talk about the study and its recommendations. One such forum, a blog entitled The Lost Apostrophe, has been particularly active. I would like to take a moment to address several of the comments which have recently been submitted.

Let me begin by thanking the person who established The Lost Apostrophe blog and the many people who have taken the time to submit their thoughtful comments. The Yale Study presents the Island community with an opportunity to engage in a healthy and constructive conversation about our challenges and future. That conversation is now beginning. I encourage people to participate in the debate and to identify yourselves as you do so. We are a community where all points of view are important for successful movement forward.

Common themes in the comments to date relate to the process whereby the study was conducted and Fishers Island’s readiness to operate as an independent village.

Approximately two years ago, the Island Community Board engaged the Yale Urban Design Workshop to conduct a sustainability study of Fishers Island with the objective of identifying existing challenges and recommending courses of action to protect our future. The ICB’s desire was to obtain an independent analysis which would serve as a basis upon which to engage the entire community in a focused dialogue on how best to address and solve the many problems that have been identified over the past 30-40 years.

The ICB envisioned a two step process: first, complete the independent study, and second, engage the Island community in a discussion about the findings and recommendations in the study.

Initially, the team from Yale met with a cross section of the community to solicit individual viewpoints about the Island; roughly 65-70 people were interviewed – some in small functional groups, some individually. Admittedly, in conducting their study, the Yale team did not speak to everyone, nor were they asked to. However, in Yale’s professional opinion, the scope of their outreach was sufficient to enable them to develop a well-founded understanding of the Island and the community’s long-standing problems.

As the team from Yale was conducting its work, the ICB held several community meetings to update people on our progress. The working draft of the Yale report was posted in March on www.fishersisland.net and we are now engaged in presentations and smaller outreach meetings to solicit views and reactions. More of these small group meetings will be scheduled following the June 23 presentation. Our intention is to make this process as open and inclusive as possible; we estimate that about 275-300 people have attended at least one of the meetings over the past 18 months. I regret that some people may feel excluded – that was far from our desire.

It is important to understand that the findings and recommendations set forth in the study represent Yale’s independent viewpoint. They do not represent the view of the ICB or any other group. It is for the Fishers Island community to decide if the recommendations have merit.

One of the central recommendations in the study is that Fishers Island should incorporate as an independent village within the Town of Southold. Underlying this view is the sense that our present structure places unsustainable reliance on volunteer activities to manage the Island and limits our ability to respond proactively to the many challenges, including the declining population, insufficient housing, limited employment opportunities and outdated infrastructure. There are differing points of view on the severity of our challenges and the right path forward. However, we clearly need more dialogue. It is apparent to many that our challenges are becoming more acute and that strong, well-thought out and well-defined action is needed. We cannot sit still and hope that things will get better. We have to take a serious look at actionable ways to address our needs.

Incorporation as a village raises a host of very valid questions and concerns about process, management and cost; how will we get there, who will be in charge, how much will it cost. The Yale study has addressed these issues on a macro level and concludes that incorporation as a village is feasible. However, the study readily acknowledges that if we choose to go in this direction, much more work will need to be done to answer some of the questions being raised and to validate the general assumption that incorporation will be a net benefit for the Island.

We are setting up a simple system to respond to the questions and issues being raised about the study and its recommendations. We will answer all, but not individually. Logistically, that is impractical. Those requiring research will be posted and put on the Island website. This response method is being set up, and it will be as informative and as timely as we can make it.

Please send your comments, questions, concerns and suggestions to yalestudyfi@gmail.com or thelostapostrophe@gmail.com. These will be forwarded to Andrei Harwell, the project’s chief researcher.

The Yale Urban Design Workshop’s Director Alan Plattus and Project Manager Andrei Harwell will present Sustaining Fishers Island – A blueprint for protecting the future on Fishers Island on Monday, June 23 at 5:00 pm at the Community Center. Everyone is most welcome. If you are unable to attend the June 23 meeting on island, you may view it streaming live at: http://www.highschoolcube.com/event/fishers-island-icb-board-meeting-356635

In closing, I would ask everyone to be part of this dialogue. Express your points of view, ask questions, bring creative ideas forward, and identify yourselves. I have always been struck by the extraordinary good-will here. It is especially evident when there is a singular “event” – storm, accident, boating incident, medical emergency, etc. I am hopeful that the Yale work will be a catalyst to tap into this same sense of goodwill to address and solve the multi-faceted problems we face.

John Spofford
President, Island Community Board

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USCG Eagle passing the Race early morning March 18, 2023 on her return from the Chesapeake Bay . Photo Credit Marlin Bloethe

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