OBA Gives Sneak Peak of Summer

By Timothy BolgerAmong the first signs of spring were plans for the coming summer on Fire Island, sprouting at the Ocean Beach Association’s annual winter meeting March 18, at All Souls Church in Manhattan.Four of the five candidates running for three village trustee seats planted their stake in the June 5 elections with stump speeches before the crowd of more than 100. Village officials did the housecleaning with updates on the off-season and what to expect upon returning to the beach. And making it rain was the committee tasked with forming a plan to fix the Sandy-ravaged, village-owned Windswept property that the youth group calls home — but funding the reconstruction remains the stormiest debate.”We’re actually closer than you perceive,” Ocean Beach Village Trustee Mathew Blake said, while discussing the committee’s deadlock over whether to pay for the project with private or public money. When a crowd member asked exactly how close they were to a resolution, Todd Pavlin, an Ocean Beach Youth Group (OBYG) leader, answered: “Not at all!”One thing Blake and Pavlin agreed on is that it may cost the village twice—maybe more—than the undetermined cost for rebuilding it privately, due to government contracting laws. Pavlin said OBYG already raised nearly $1 million without officially fundraising, but village officials would forfeit about the same amount in storm-rebuilding aid if that option is pursued. A week after Pavlin declared at the meeting that OBYG’s board unanimously agreed that it can’t rebuild Windswept with private donations because the village won’t agree to their terms, Ocean Beach Mayor James Mallott wrote on the village website that it will plan for a taxpayer-funded project, augmented with donations, this fall.Village officials estimate if they do the job, Windswept could reopen as early as the summer of 2016, nearly four years after the storm. But, OBYG is eager to rebuild sooner. Either way, the issue is likely to remain an issue in the village elections.With the upcoming election in sight, political newcomer Christopher Norris announced his intentions to the audience of being a contender in the race. Incumbents Trustees Matthew Blake and Gregory Pace are seeking re-election to their second four-year terms since Pace won his seat in 2010 to fill the remaining year on the late Bill Wingate’s term. Also seeking his first full term is Brian Power, who was appointed to replace the late Douglas Wyckoff.”It’s not always easy, but it’s always rewarding,” Pace, a filmmaker who also serves as deputy mayor, said, while touting his community relations and plan to revamp the village website. “The board has been working very well together … I’m really pleased to be part of it.””When I wake up in the morning, I think about how to deliver for all of you,” Blake, who works for the World Economic Forum, said, while recalling his work on the village’s contract with the ferry company. “I look forward to another terrific four years.”Power noted that Mallott drafted him to village service because of his outsider status. “Selfishly sitting on the beach all these years, I didn’t realize the depth and breadth of all that the board does,” Power said. “If we don’t care of the things we need to take care of, the rest is moot … Under no circumstance am I going to be involved in something that I don’t think I can explain on the street to neighbors.”Norris, a contractor, pitched his credentials as key to helping navigate massive infrastructure projects facing the village, ranging from sidewalks to sewers. “Our village itself may soon become one big project,” he said. “I enjoy what I do. I’m good at what I do.”As for current village officials, Mayor Mallott said that taxes will rise again this year along with temperatures. He expects a single-digit tax increase will be included in the budget that the board is currently debating, making it the third time in as many years taxes go up.”This year your taxes won’t go up double digits,” he said. “They’ll be well below 10 percent.”On the beachfront, Chief Lifeguard Nick Stertz said 34 of 35 full-time lifeguards are returning this summer, which he said is a sign of improved morale.”We developed a good protocol … to keep our guards concentrated on our beach … and swimmers safe,” he said. “Line rescues are down significantly due to preventative lifeguarding. I’m very happy with the way things are going.”Ocean Beach Fire Department Chief Ian Levine and Ocean Beach Police Police Chief George Hesse both said last summer was busier than usual for their respective agencies. Levine said volunteers responded to a record 322 calls, 181 of which were medical alarms—including the department’s first CPR save—and 131 fire-related. Hesse said his officers wrote 694 tickets, up 122 more than year prior, and responded to 802 calls for service, up 119 for the same time period.But, there was good news, too. Chief Levine noted that the fire hall and firehouse will reopen this summer after undergoing major post-storm renovations. “It’s been a long time coming, but we finally see light at the end of the tunnel,” he said, adding that once the fire hall opens the Wounded Warrior Project appreciation day will return “by popular demand” for the first time since Sandy.He also suggested homeowners consider having lockbox keys installed so that in case of emergency, firefighters can unlock doors instead of breaking them down while responding to an alarm. “It will be a lot easier than replacing a window or a door,” he said.Chief Hesse recalled that among the cases his officers dealt with last year, 50 were serious crimes ranging from assault and larceny to drug charges. As a proactive measure, he suggested residents go to nixle.com to sign up for Ocean Beach Village Police alerts via text and email. As for this winter, he was eager to put it behind him, calling it “one of the roughest on my 22 years as a police officer.”Mayor Mallott agreed.”It’s been some winter,” he said. “But at last the bay has broken up, the ice is gone and the ferry has started running again.”RETRACTION: An earlier version of this article stated Maria Silsdorf also had intentions of running for Trustee in the 2015 race. According to Ms. Silsdorf, this information is incorrect. Fire Island News apologizes for the error.Storm-ravaged Windswept was among the topics of discussion at OBA’s meeting.