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Shinnecocks' plan to install 61-foot billboards off of Sunrise Highway draws town's ire

A trench for electrical service has been dug

A trench for electrical service has been dug in the woods as part of construction on the Shinnecock Tribe's Westwood property in Hampton Bays, between Sunrise Highway Exits 65 and 66.   Credit: Gordon M. Grant

Members of the Shinnecock Indian Nation are building two 61-foot-tall monuments to be prominently displayed on Route 27, but Southampton Town has characterized the structures as electronic billboards and is urging the tribe to stop the project.

The structures would feature the Shinnecock seal at the top with a 30-by-20-foot electronic display over a stone base, according to plans shared with the state Department of Transportation and obtained by the town. The time and temperature would also be displayed on the signs, which would be visible to nearly all those traveling to the Hamptons by car.

The structures would be placed on the tribe’s Westwood property in Hampton Bays, between Sunrise Highway Exits 65 and 66, north and south of the highway.

Tribal members described the monuments as an “economic development project” for the tribe and said it would sell advertising space on the display. A tribal member said the tribe would not abide by the town stop work order issued on Friday but declined to discuss the project further.

In a letter following a meeting on Monday with the tribe, the town board acknowledged that Southampton does not have clear legal standing on the land but implored to tribe to halt all construction at the site.

The letter recognized the historical negative impacts of colonization on the Shinnecock Nation and the tribe’s desire to better its economic conditions. Still, it said the signs were out of scale and character in an otherwise bucolic region.

“These urban-style illuminated signs, towering above the pine trees, are in stark contrast to all that represents the natural and scenic beauty of the town,” reads the letter signed by Southampton Supervisor Jay Schneiderman and the four town council members. “We have learned many lessons about land stewardship from the Shinnecock, but these so-called ‘monuments’ seem in direct conflict with those teachings.”

Trees have been cleared in the area and some electric work has been performed, but construction on the structures has not yet begun, said Southampton Town public safety administrator Steven Troyd. The tribe had notified the DOT of the work, but not the town, Troyd said.

“The town has not been consulted, does not agree to it and does not approve any part of the plan,” Troyd said.

Troyd said he believes the signs violate federal highway code and compared the issue to the controversial I Love NY tourism signs erected on Long Island and throughout New York as part of a state campaign touting local attractions. State officials agreed to remove those signs in 2018, after the Federal Highway Administration said they were unsafe and could distract drivers.

A state DOT spokesman said Monday that the issue is under review.

“I think it’s going to be a driving hazard,” Troyd said. “I can just see people being completely distracted.”

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