Town Board Puts Grave Site Purchase on Hold

After it was revealed that a portion of the Water Mill site where a skull was unearthed in December 2006 is the subject of a law suit, the Southampton Town board put off the purchase
of the property with CPF funds until 'a future date'.

The property was to be purchased so it would remain vacant land because it is a known ancient native settlement and burial site.

A resolution had been prepared by the Board which called for the purchase for 5 million dollars. The 9.5 acre property consists of 3 buildable lots and wetlands. A 4.8 acre lot was was under contract for a home construction and land purchase. After the deal fell through the prospective purchaser, a Mr. Garfinkel attempted to buy the land for $850k but Greg Konner the developer/owner declined. Konner is being sued by Garfinkel.

Konner stated at the meeting that this was disclosed to the Town. He has been working with the Town and the Shinnecocks to arrange for the purchase.

Community Preservation Fund Director Mary Wilson said that the purchase would not be made before a title search.

Supervisor Linda Kabot stated that the resolution to purchase will be withdrawn and "pending discussion by the Board in executive session the resolution may be re-introduced at a later date." In the mean time written comments addressed to the Board will be accepted for the next 10 days.

Several archeological studies have been done over the years that indicate the area, just south of Montauk Highway in Water Mill had been an Indian Village. The skull, part of the remains unearthed in 2006, is awaiting re-burial.

Members of the Shinnecock Nation and others testified in support of the purchase during Tuesday's Town Board meeting and they requested that the Board take up their long standing request for local grave protection legislation. New York State is one of four states without such a law.

Becky Genia of Shinnecock who is head of the Inter-Tribal Historical Preservation Task Force made a plea for action by the board. Ms. Genia said
"We know we can't stop the wave of destruction and demoliton in Southampton. We can only hope to slow it down by asking that when graves are unearthed the land become the highest priority on your list of preservation and protection. Graves protection legislation has not been a priority and should be, starting now. Accidental unearthing of graves are only an accident the first time around. Anything after that is intentional desecration of human remains."
George Stankevich, an attorney who represents the Shinnecock Nation said:

"This discovery of native graves, I suspect it occurs more often than we know,
but when it occurs, a Chinese fire drill occurs."

Stankevich said the Shinnecock have proposed that there be a systematic approach to this in regard to native and colonial American graves.

This would involve calling the coroner, identification of the remains, and the meeting of a committee of consisting of Town Board members, members of the Native community and the historical society.

Stankevich added "It should not be necessary to acquire an entire building lot if the site is minor. This would give solace to builders, who in many cases don't know what to do.
It is suspected that sites are bulldozed in the middle of the night and life continues."

"We have had several meetings with the Town Board requesting they go over this
legislation, but the requests have been buried. We thought that with the new
administration there would be a change. "

Referring to a presentation about a hearing aid firm who were honored at the meeting by
the Town for providing help to families communicating with soldiers in Iraq, Stankevich said

"we might suggest that we get a hearing aid for each board member and set it to Native American affairs so they can better understand the concerns of the community for these issues rather than throwing it in the bottom drawer until the next Chinese fire drill."

Supervisor Kabot replied that 'these pleas are not falling on deaf ears'.
She referred to recent meetings between the Board and Shinnecock Tribal leaders.