By Kathryn G. Menu
When D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus returned home to Sag Harbor after Hurricane Sandy, they discovered the heating system in their historic home had been completely destroyed as had their navy blue Mercedes Benz — its computer fried as a result of the tidal surge of salt water.
They were by no means alone.
Flooding overwhelmed their Sag Harbor neighborhood, including Spring, Garden and Howard streets, during the late October storm. Without power, village pumps meant to counteract flooding failed and with no where to go the tidal surge resulted in water levels as high as three feet in some homes.
In April, the Sag Harbor Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) granted a variance that will ultimately allow William Egan to expand his Garden Street home. FEMA and county regulations require the house and grade on the property be elevated — something neighbors have argued will exacerbate drainage problems in the neighborhood.
After reaching out to the village board and the harbor committee — presenting documentation from environmental activist Larry Penny and engineer Louis Schwartz that this construction will negatively impact neighboring homes and drainage — on May 1 the neighbors sent a letter to the village board calling for a moratorium on all development in low lying and flood zone areas.
The neighbors ask for the moratorium until the village board completes a comprehensive review of drainage in low-lying areas.
The letter also asks the village board review the current wetlands map for its accuracy. In Penny’s report, he identifies a portion in the rear of the Egan property as a wetland area likely separated from other wetlands through development.
And it is development that originally resulted in drainage being stymied in the neighborhood, noted Hegedus and Pennebaker in an interview this week. With the creation of West Water Street in the 1960s, the neighborhood was no longer able to naturally drain through its wetlands system.
“We are just worried about making it worse,” said Hegedus.
“We are just one of many neighborhoods that are facing these issues,” she added, noting global warming and rising tides will make flooding in coastal communities — and the storms that cause tidal surges — more prevalent.
“I think we have to start thinking about drainage in new ways,” she said.
For now, the neighbors will continue to fight for any relief they can get, including the introduction of generators to power the pump systems in the event of a power outage like the one that occurred during Hurricane Sandy.
“It’s the dark shadow of future storms we are thinking about,” said Pennebaker.
The Sag Harbor Village Board will meet on Tuesday, May 14 at 6 p.m.