Boat Party Banished

Posted on 12 July 2012

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Citing environmental concerns, as well as complaints made by Sag Harbor residents, this week the Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees passed legislation expanding its mass gathering law in an effort to prevent the annual Sag Harbor Boat Party from continuing to host its August event in Sag Harbor Cove.

On Tuesday night, the village board adopted a law that requires anyone hosting an event anticipating more than 75 people — whether on land or water under Sag Harbor jurisdiction — to first obtain a permit from the village.

The boat party has been a fixture on the South Fork for two decades, anchoring off Barcelona Neck in East Hampton as well as Shelter Island before finding its current home in Sag Harbor Cove three years ago. The event has drawn anywhere from 100 to 300 vessels whose owners and passengers spend the day listening to live music on a barge supplied by organizers. Donations are collected to pay for the bands and occasionally to provide charitable support to a worthy cause.

Both East Hampton and Shelter Island passed legislation to regulate the event through permitting, pushing it into Sag Harbor — a municipality without permit requirements for parties on the water.

Until now, that is.

According to Sag Harbor Mayor Brian Gilbride, the legislation was conceived specifically due to concerns that have arisen since the Sag Harbor Boat Party moved its event into Sag Harbor Cove. That prompted complaints from waterfront residents in the neighborhood and drew the ire of officials concerned about the environmental impact the party could have on an ecologically sensitive body of water.

On Tuesday night, Southampton Town Trustee Jon Semlear, a commercial fisherman, applauded the village board for the action and said it had the support of a majority of the trustees in Southampton.

“The feeling is it is too small an area to accommodate such a large event,” said Semlear, noting the cove has already been plagued with red and brown tides. Most recently, the area was closed to shellfishing by the state to protect residents from paralytic shellfish poisoning which can manifest itself during specific algae blooms. That ban has been lifted, but Semlear said it was a testament to how sensitive the coves in Sag Harbor are.

“To have 300 or 500 or 200 boats anchored in areas we have been working on with the Department of State and the Cornell Cooperative Extension to get eel grass to grow is contradictory to what we are trying to accomplish,” said Semlear.

“It may not seem like a lot, but a one day event is just another stresser on a tenuous body of water,” he added.

Semlear added the fact there is not one individual willing to take responsibility for the Sag Harbor Boat Party — an event so covert it generally announces its location the day it is occurring on boating and sailing weblogs — is even more concerning.

“My suggestion is it happen somewhere outside the cove where there is better flushing,” said Semlear.

David Beard, the president of the Bay Point Property Owners Association said the group is unanimously opposed to the event happening in Sag Harbor Cove.

The board of trustee’s decision was unanimous. In order for the party to move forward in Sag Harbor jurisdiction, a principal must come forward and pursue a permit from the village, which will be considered by the village board.

On Monday night, the party was also the subject of heated debate at the village’s Harbor Committee meeting. Without a quorum and only two of the board’s current four members present, the Harbor Committee could take no action to support the village’s legislation. However, Harbor Committee Chairman Bruce Tait made it clear he did not support the party continuing in Sag Harbor Cove.

During that meeting, Bay Point resident Charlie Canavan — who said on Wednesday he was not the party’s organizer but simply fact finding for the event — argued it would not pose an environmental hazard. He added that while the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) does close to the cove to shellfishing after the event it is merely a precautionary measure.

Tait countered that the DEC closes the area because there is the potential the party has had an impact on the cove’s water quality, just as they do after a heavy rainstorm when stormwater runoff is swept into the bays.

Peconic BayKeeper Kevin MacAllister approached the board not to support the event or decry its existence. Rather, MacAllister took Tait to task for suggesting at last month’s meeting that he could have a conflict of interest in weighing in on the impact of the party after Canavan suggested the BayKeeper could benefit from a donation from proceeds of the party.

MacAllister said he was not offered funding, but an opportunity to speak at the party about water quality issues.

“I seize every opportunity I can to advocate for clean water,” he said.

MacAllister added he was offended at the suggestion that his decades long work on the water would be compromised by a donation. He stressed the party could not be a fundraiser for the BayKeeper.

“With respect to the event itself and the question as to whether there is water quality monitoring, I don’t believe there is, but there needs to be,” said MacAllister, adding he would perform the service himself.

Tait said when he spoke of the conflict of interest it was after Canavan had offered that the BayKeeper may receive a donation from the event.

“Your integrity could be the best, but it doesn’t matter,” said Tait. “It is the appearance of a conflict of interest that matters.”

“The fact is we have had closures in this cove for shellfishing for a dangerous bacteria that causes death has us concerned,” said Tait.

“I don’t disagree but let’s put this in perspective,” said MacAllister. “Your concerns are well founded, but in fact the cove has bigger issues than the assembly of boats on a given Sunday.”

“I am not going to question your integrity on these things and that is not what I am doing,” added Tait. “What I was questioning was the appearance of a conflict of interest.”

“You need to know not in a million years will I sell my integrity for a crab net of dollar bills,” replied MacAllister.

Redwood resident Cam Gleason said another reason not to allow the party in the cove was the presence of the diamondback terrapin, a turtle which makes its home in Sag Harbor Cove and has been named a designated species of special recognition by the DEC.

“The party does not belong there,” she said. “Have it somewhere else.”

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14 Responses to “Boat Party Banished”

  1. Joe Lauro says:

    The land of NO prevails again. This party has been good old fashioned family fun for 20 years..no admission fee..no commercial agenda..just a nice day on the water with music and friends…it’s a shame it will no longer exist.
    If you list all the potential dangers or possible ramifications of just about anything we humans do and PREVENT THEM from happening because of them the world will be a very very very dull place. bureaucrats are there to say no and it seems our town is full of them..thanks a lot gang! I supose we should all just stay home and watch our big-ass tvs!

  2. Miata says:

    I think paragraph 6 should really read:

    “That prompted complaints from waterfront residents, NOT IN MY neighborhood”

    Guess it affects these waterfront residents repose. Village should not bow down to them.

  3. I FIND IT QUITE AMUSING THAT ONE AFTERNOON OF MOSTLY LOCAL PEOPLE,ENJOYING THEIR WATERBORNE MINI VACATION,DOES SO MUCH DAMAGE TO THE COVE WATER QUALITY BUT ALL THE MARINAS FILLED TO THE RIM WITH BOATS WHOSE UNDER WATER AREAS ARE PAINTED WITH PAINTS,SO TOXIC, ONE IS REQUIRED TO HAVE SPECIAL TRAINING AND A LICENSE TO APPLY IT, SEEM TO HAVE NO AFFECT ON THE SURROUNDIG AREAS.? TO TOP THAT OFF ,THE POWERS THAT BE ALLOWED A GIANT ,PRIVATE,FIREWORKS SHOW BE FIRED OFF IN ALMOST THE EXACT SAME SPOT WHERE THE PARTY TAKES PLACE !! WHAT HAPPENS TO ALL THAT PAPER, GUNPOWDER AND CHEMICAL RESIDUE, WHERE DOES IT GO !SEEMS TO ME ONE AFTERNOON OF PEOPLE HAVING SOME ENJOYMENT ON THEIR LOCAL WATERWAY PUTS MUCH LESS STRESS ON THE COVE THAN ANY OF THE OTHER EVENTS THAT HAPPEN ALL THE TIME AND ALLOWED BY THE VILLAGE AND THE TOWN. AND I DIDNT EVEN MENTION ANYTHING ABOUT THE USE OF LAWN CARE PRODUCTS AND RUN OFF !!
    TO BAD I DONT HAVE A BIG ASS TV WATCH, I ONLY HAVE A BOAT THAT I WANT TO YSE !

  4. OCCUPY THE COVE says:

    I SAY THAT EVERYONE STILL SHOW UP AND ANCHOR, SAME DAY, SAME SPOT AND LETS ALL JUST ENJOY THE AFTERNOON AS WE USUALLY DO.WE CANT GET A TICKET FOR PUTTING DOWN AN ANCHOR!
    LETS OCCUPY THE COVE, AUGUST 5TH !! I BET WE CAN GET EVEN MORE PEOPLE AND MORE MUSIC THAN EVER BEFORE !! BRING YOUR DRUMS HARMONICAS, ECT. !! SEE YOU THERE !!!

  5. E.M.Maxx says:

    To mr.been there & to Occupy the cove THANK YOU!!!!! You both took the words out of my mouth!!!! Esp. the part about that private fireworks display!!!!!!!!!

  6. Ex LI er says:

    I feel that this issue is something of a Pandora’s box…the locals want to continue to carry on a tradition that’s fine..but there is always a consequence to something.
    I can understand the village’s move to have permits..because in the end there needs to be accountability. So the party organizers and local people should be aware of such issues as water pollution and other contaminates. This is a one day event. While rainwater and lawn care fertilizers, and sewage from houses plague the bay ALL YEAR LONG.
    More focus should be on the damage the water ways endure all year long. All local people know, that places like Havens beach is really a water way constantly polluted by surrounding houses sewage systems, and what about the boats that there all summer long in the moorings? Where do you suppose they dump their human wastes…point is..these issues should be dealt with all year long.
    So maybe some constructive advice when it comes to the boat party..limited boats to hundred or so..limit engine usage..and perhaps hire an independent waste removal company to be on site to deal with boat wastes? If the party boaters show responsibility, then events in the future wouldn’t have to be questioned. Also, if the party boaters have a specific “Cause” they need to fund, maybe that would help. So a donation to “Save the Diamondback Turtle of Sag Harbor Cove” would do? I say let the boaters have their day..one day, apposed to year long abuse..perhaps the locals will feel passionate to want to save their local turtle and it will be a yearly fundraising activity..wink wink..

  7. E.M. Maxx says:

    Again on the subject of fireworks… check out the website Backcountryattitude.com….search Fireworks: cheap thrills with toxic consequences……..

  8. John Watson says:

    I believe that there is more continuous pollution from the gas, oil and diesel trails from the boats that utilize the cove everyday. In addition the effluent from the sewage treatment plant probably have more of an continuous impact on the waters than a one day event, not to mention th e lawn fertilizers and runoff from the surrounding homes and streets. This is really not about playing the enviromental card, this is really that the few that dot the shoreline do not want the many to have access to the water for their party, that is unless it is their personal party, then its ok. The fact that it has moved into the cove has increased the safety of it as it is easily monitored by the myriad of floating police agencies. Should this not be permitted then the party should be moved to inside or outside the breakwater, which is filled with boats when the yatch clubs have their annual fireworks display. This seems to be acceptable to the powers that be and no one raises the environment card at that well attended event. But I wonder if the same rules will apply and that they will need a permit now as many more than 75 people attend that event.

  9. E.M. Maxx says:

    The “powers that be” bow to the people with money…….ALWAYS HAVE ALWAYS WILL!!!!!!!

  10. Effin' Ridiculous says:

    Now the caddy’s at Bushwood don’t even get their 15 minutes in the pool?!

    I agree – hold the party anyway but with even less accountability.

    Every boat with satellite radio put it on the same channel (maybe the Margaritaville channel) and crank it!

  11. The partygoers will not trash the place with litter, dump any sewage, or destroy the environment in any other manner. It’s just a great day of clean fun on the water. Yes, it does make a little noise (musical arts) for a few hours one day a year, but doesn’t everyone put up with something slightly bothersome once in a while? The music only lasted for 4+ hours last year!

    SpongeBob: Attention everyone! Attention please! Now that we’re all here, I officially declare the party switch to be in the “on” postion!

  12. Russel Sage says:

    my steps to a solution-

    1- scanlon needs to appoint the next scanlon (a responsible and passionate partier)

    2- spend the year fundraising for the stupid bureaucratic permits and on a more important note- a clean-up crew

    3- locate the party in an intelligent place where water flows (not a f*cking cove or creek!)

    4- tell old people to stop bitching and being difficult, buy them a nice dinner and tell them to shut up.

    5- get hammered drunk and have the best day of your summer. every summer.

  13. Cambo says:

    X2 On All the boats in the Cove creating pollution they sit there the entire season from satellite views you can count 265 boat slips and 125 docks that are in the cove. I would not be surprised if you counted every boat in the cove that it would be 3 times the amount that show up for the one day boat party and they are there for 3-4 months. The noise issue only 26 homes are within 500-1000 ft of where the band plays at that distance the music is faint it is almost hard to make out what song is playing.

    Hoping for great weather rain will be the only thing that stops this party


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