Havens Beach Discussion Stalls

Posted on 15 May 2009

The village Harbor Committee stopped short of having a discussion on the results of water quality testing at Sag Harbor’s Havens Beach during its Monday night meeting, after chairman Bruce Tait announced there may be inconsistencies in testing conducted by professors and students at Stony Brook University’s Southampton campus and the Suffolk County Department of Health. According to Tait, next week officials from the county will meet with mayor Greg Ferraris and village environmental planning consultant Rich Warren to review both results.

Tait reminded the committee that just over a year ago the village and Peconic Baykeeper Kevin MacAllister, who had engaged the services of Chris Gobler, Stony Brook-Southampton associate professor and director of the Coastal and Estuarine Research Program, had agreed to a testing protocol and schedule. Testing at Havens Beach, a site the BayKeeper has long maintained has a stormwater runoff issue, has been ongoing for roughly a year as the BayKeeper, Gobler and village officials promised to determine whether stormwater runoff or another factor was polluting the popular bathing beach.

A year and a half ago, in part because of a brochure issued by the Peconic Baykeeper, the village began looking at the possibility of contaminants at Havens Beach and in a drainage creek that runs north to south through marshland and onto the beach. The dreen collects stormwater runoff from drains throughout Sag Harbor, allowing the runoff to dissipate into the Sag Harbor Bay just off Havens Beach.

Village officials hoped specifically to discern the cause of any elevated levels of bacteria, whether it be storm water runoff, animal waste, effluent from boats in the bay or even a result of the village’s own wastewater treatment facility. The BayKeeper and Gobler agreed to take the reins, although village officials last week said they were kept in the dark about the findings at Havens Beach prior to a public presentation at the college about water quality Island-wide.

Although the team vowed to continue testing, according to a presentation made last week, the results indicated bacteria exceeded appropriate levels for shellfish and bathing 31 percent and 44 percent, respectively, during the course of the full year.

“Recently Southampton College has a symposium and a talk on many issues going on in the waters on the East End and they touched on the testing that is ongoing at Havens Beach,” said Tait. “They have found some elevated levels and different things going on, although our agreement was they would keep us informed and they did not do that, they just made this announcement.”

Tait said until that data can be compared with the data collected by Suffolk County, he felt it was too early for his committee to weigh in on Havens Beach or any remedial plan that could be a result of the testing.

Havens Beach will remain a monthly discussion for the committee, said Tait.

In other committee news, member Brian Halweil apologized to the rest of the board, which was missing members Jeff Peters and Dr. Tom Halton on Monday night, about his absence at the last board meeting. At the April Harbor Committee meeting, the board was unable to offer recommendations to the board of trustees on a proposed zoning code that changes zoning on the waterfront for many businesses making them special exception, rather than permitted uses as they could not reach consensus on whether this was an appropriate change. All existing businesses are grandfathered, and would continue to operate as permitted uses should the code be adopted.

At last month’s meeting, Tait was unable to sway the rest of the committee into voting in favor of the code, although the measure was strictly advisory and the committee will have to determine if the code is consistent with the village’s Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan (LWRP) after the village board of trustees has deemed the code complete.

On Monday, Halweil said he was satisfied with the code, but stressed the committee would remain a staunch advocate for waterfront businesses and help them navigate the new zoning, if necessary.

But a couple of waterfront businesses in Sag Harbor continue to take issue with the code, including the Sag Harbor Yacht Club and Lou Grignon’s Sag Harbor Yacht Yard. Both have said the change in zone, despite their grandfathered status, will have an economic impact on their businesses and the yacht club has gone as far as to ask for an economic impact statement on not just the code’s effect on the waterfront, but the whole of the business district.

On Monday, Tait reminded Grignon and yacht club representatives that until the consistency review is underway, they should approach the board of trustees, which held its monthly meeting on Tuesday and will hold a special meeting on the new code on Friday at 5 p.m. 

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