The Shinnecock Indian Nation has begun operating one of a pair of electronic billboards along Sunrise Highway in Hampton Bays that local leaders and state transportation officials have opposed, Southampton and Shinnecock representatives confirmed Friday.
Lance Gumbs, tribal council of trustees vice chairman for the Shinnecock Indian Nation, said Friday that the tribe held a ceremony Thursday night with about 100 tribal members. They gathered near one of the 61-foot-tall billboard towers along Route 27 to commemorate the activation, he said.
Southampton Town officials and civic leaders have criticized the billboards and called for their removal, saying they do not fit in with the traditionally scenic South Fork and are not in character with the area. They are on tribe-owned land on Route 27’s eastbound and westbound shoulders.
The tribe has not started working on the other billboard, Gumbs said, and added there is no timetable yet for its completion.
The New York State Department of Transportation issued the tribe both a cease-and-desist order and a stop-work order on the two billboards on May 17. Southampton officials issued a stop-work order in April to the tribe.
“The state commenced an action against the Shinnecock Nation to halt the construction of billboards along State Route 27 (Sunrise Highway) and, following a hearing before the New York State Supreme Court, a temporary restraining order was issued,” said state DOT spokesman Glenn Bain.
Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman said Friday that the tribe did not let the town know the board was being turned on before the Thursday ceremony. He said that while the town is not considering legal action right now, officials will likely let the state handle the issue.
Gumbs said Friday that the billboards were a “wonderful, historic moment” for the tribe, which is hoping the billboards will be an economic generator for them via advertising revenues.
“We’re taking advantage of the opportunity because of the fact that billboards are not allowed in the Hamptons. On our land, we feel we had a captive audience with the highway traffic,” Gumbs said.
Schneiderman said he is worried the billboards could potentially lead to more accidents along the highway due to distracted drivers.
“These are signs I’d expect to see in Times Square,” Schneiderman said. “Here, with a speed limit of 55 miles per hour, you could wind up with a serious situation.”