Fire Island National Sea Shore Superintendent Alexcy Romero, left, seen...

Fire Island National Sea Shore Superintendent Alexcy Romero, left, seen in 2019, and plaintiff Sam Wood outside the Fire Island Lighthouse on Sept. 13.

Credit: Andrew Theodorakis, left, and J. Conrad Williams Jr., right

A sanitation company owner has sued a top Fire Island National Seashore official, alleging his business permit was temporarily suspended because he helped a ranger who lost his job after enforcing public nudity laws in a way that rankled the official. 

Plaintiff Sam Wood has alleged Fire Island National Seashore Superintendent Alexcy Romero illegally suspended a driving permit he needs to operate his private sanitation business for a month starting in mid-February as part of a pattern of abuse.

Wood, 63, of Kismet, wants a judge to toss the suspension, rule that Romero abused his discretion and order a reimbursement of his court costs, according to a lawsuit filed in August in federal court in Central Islip.

The complaint also names the National Park Service and Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, whose spokespersons declined to comment.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • A sanitation company owner has sued a top Fire Island National Seashore official, alleging his business' permit was temporarily suspended because he helped a ranger who lost his job after enforcing public nudity laws. 

  • Sam Wood, of Kismet, has alleged Fire Island National Seashore Superintendent Alexcy Romero illegally suspended a driving permit he needed to operate his private sanitation business for a month starting in mid-February as part of a pattern of abuse.

  • Wood, 63, wants a judge to toss the suspension, rule that Romero abused his discretion and order a reimbursement of his court costs, according to a lawsuit filed in August in federal court in Central Islip.

Romero couldn't be reached for comment.

Wood had a permit for his company, Community Carting, that had allowed him since 2005 to transport and remove commercial and residential trash on Fire Island. He also owns Sam Wood Inc., which builds custom homes and commercial buildings, and Island Beach Realty, a real estate company.

Wood said in an interview his permit suspension cost him between $50,000 and $60,000 because he was forced to build a cart to manually collect trash.

For a month, he hired several workers to push the cart two miles to a location where contents could be transferred to his truck.

The permit allows Wood's garbage business to operate vehicles on Fire Island, where driving requires special permits. Only year-round residents, service agencies, hunters and fishers, and some property owners are eligible for those permits.

The business owner says Romero retaliated against him by issuing violation notices after he donated more than $2,000 to a 2020 fundraiser to support a former Park Service chief ranger who was fired. 

The lawsuit says that ranger was fired for refusing to turn a blind eye to individuals breaking nudity laws in Fire Island Pines, Carrington Tract and Cherry Grove.

New York State prohibits public nudity. 

"He did not want New York’s public nudity laws enforced against his friends," the lawsuit says of Romero's alleged motivation for reportedly targeting the ranger.

Wood's complaint says the ranger refused to abide by Romero's order and later was fired “based upon a questionable finding" that he "misused his official vehicle for non-official purposes."

That firing forced the ranger, who had worked for Fire Island National Seashore since the 1990s, to relocate with his family during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the suit.

The ranger, identified in court papers as John Stewart, declined to comment.

The complaint alleges Romero knew about Wood's "outspoken support" for the ranger, which put the Fire Island resident in the superintendent's "cross hairs."

The violation notices were based on a review of surveillance video "by a ranger that appears to have been looking specifically for" Wood's vehicles, the complaint alleges.

According to the suit, he was issued violations for driving an unpermitted vehicle and carting materials. Wood said one of the tickets was issued for transporting groceries home during the pandemic after taking garbage to the mainland, because garbage trucks are not technically supposed to carry freight. 

Wood was told in January his permit would be suspended based on three violation notices he wasn't able to challenge before his corresponding February court date, the most recent of which was issued in September 2020, according to the complaint. 

The complaint argues the delay in prosecuting the violation notices was a breach of Wood's rights, including to a speedy trial, and "would warrant dismissal of those violation notices."

The suit also alleges Romero “has treated the Fire Island National Seashore as his personal fiefdom."

Wood's lawyer, former Suffolk District Attorney Timothy Sini, declined an interview.

"I agreed to take the case because Fire Island is a magical place, and Sam Wood is a champion for the Fire Island community," he said in an email.

Nearly 40 permanent employees report to Romero at the Fire Island National Seashore, with as many as 60 additional seasonal workers during the summer, according to the National Park Service website.

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