The Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees is one step closer to identifying why bacterial levels have exceeded county health standards for swimming at the village’s lone bathing beach, Havens Beach.
On Tuesday, August 11 the board approved additional water tests at the beach aimed at giving the village definitive knowledge not only on what bacteria may exist in a stormwater runoff drainage ditch and adjacent beach, but where that bacteria is coming from. Theories on the source of contamination have ranged from the effect of an improperly filtered runoff, to sewage from boats illegally dumping offshore or animals waste.
Water quality at Havens Beach has been an ongoing debate over the last decade. In the last three years, Peconic Baykeeper Kevin MacAllister has raised the issue as a critical problem for village officials to address. At the same time, Suffolk County, which tests the water at Havens weekly as part of its health department’s monitoring of all bathing beaches in the county, showed just a couple of days annually where water quality at Havens Beach exceeded appropriate standards for swimming.
Eventually the Baykeeper and village officials seemed to reach an agreement, with the Baykeeper engaging the services of Chris Gobler, a Stony Brook Southampton associate professor and the director of the Coastal and Estuarine Research Program, to conduct a year of testing at Havens Beach. However, after a year of testing — and even a poster that alleged water quality at Havens Beach was poor —neither the Baykeeper nor Gobler have offered any testing results to the village, according to officials, leaving the village with no recourse but to begin a new round immediately.
According to Sag Harbor Village Environmental Planning Consultant Rich Warren, the village has secured Cornell Cooperative Extension to aid them in this project. Cornell’s Emerson Hasbrouck has agreed to use the extension’s source library – a database of bacterial sources – to help village officials identify the source of any contamination.
“We want to do duplicate sampling,” explained Warren on Tuesday. He said the key would be to broker a deal with the county where they take two samples at the same time during their weekly tests, and send the additional bottle of water to Hasbrouk. This, said Warren, would ensure everything aspect of the water collected was uniform, but would allow the village an independent lab to not only conduct testing, but identify where, if any, contaminants were coming from.
“We are taking the bull by the horns,” said Warren. “It will be interesting to see what shows up.”
A number of residents of the Azurest, Sag Harbor Hills and Ninevah neighborhoods attended Tuesday’s meeting in hopes of learning whether water quality at their bathing beaches was effected by the drain at Havens Beach. At a village meeting, convened a year and a half ago, the Baykeeper and village officials discussed the possibility of moving some of the testing into bathing beaches in front of those neighborhoods as well.
Laurie Gibbs told the board she was concerned about the water and wondered how widely disseminated any bacteria may be from Havens Beach.
“There was no plume,” cautioned trustee Tim Culver.
Gibbs quizzed the board on what action plan they had in mind for remediation.
Trustee Tiffany Scarlato explained the first step would be to identify the cause and without that the board could not move forward.
Azurest Property Homeowners Association President Anita Rainford explained the three communities had expected testing would have been expanded into their waters, hence the disconnect.
“Since then we haven’t heard anything, seen anything,” said Rainford.
“We have not gotten it either,” said Scarlato of the testing completed by Stony Brook Southampton representatives. “Some testing was done. We don’t know how it was done, we don’t have the data.” Scarlato added Stony Brook representatives seemed reluctant to present any findings to the village.
“We have been relying on the Suffolk County Health Department,” she explained.
According to village officials, they hope the testing and identification at Havens Beach is completed in the fall.
Sag Harbor Food Pantry Music Fest
The Sag Harbor Food Pantry was approved for a Music Fest at the Sag Harbor Historical and Whaling Museum, although trustee Scarlato and Mayor Brian Gilbride cautioned the Whaling Museum that they would only be allowed so many events each year per the village code’s rules on mass gatherings which limit the museum to six. In addition to the Sag Harbor Food Pantry Music Fest, scheduled for Sunday, September 13 from 6 to 9 p.m., the museum has scheduled a wedding and their annual clambake the same weekend.
“We are off to the races,” said Scarlato, noting the village should inform the museum of the code’s limitations on mass gatherings.