While a year long testing protocol of Sag Harbor’s Havens Beach will not be completed until April of 2009, according to Peconic BayKeeper Kevin MacAllister preliminary results show “elevated levels of bacteria, particularly after stormwater events” at the popular bathing beach — results he said should be looked at as reason enough to explore remediation of the site once more.
MacAllister presented his thoughts on the controversial subject at a Friday, November 7 Sag Harbor Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) meeting, where he discussed the role of the BayKeeper and the serious threat stormwater in general poses to the ecosystem on the East End.
The Peconic BayKeeper, in cooperation with the Village of Sag Harbor, has been engaged in a yearlong testing protocol of Havens Beach after a controversial pamphlet released by the BayKeeper in 2007 suggested water at the bathing beach could be contaminated by a stormwater runoff drain and dreen that empties into the water.
Village officials and MacAllister debated the merits of the information laid out in the pamphlet, but in 2008 — through the village harbor committee — came to agreement on a testing protocol at the beach. That testing is being conducted by Stony Brook Southampton associate professor and director of the Coastal and Estuarine Research Program Chris Gobler.
On Friday, MacAllister said while he did not have results in front of him, test results showed that after storm events elevated levels of bacteria were found at the beach, including levels that exceeded shellfish standards and bathing beach standards.
“We have to focus on some form of remediation to address the quality of the water and this situation,” MacAllister told the CAC. “We have committed to continued monitoring through April and will provide a full body of findings on the conditions of water quality at the beach.”
The BayKeeper said he would like to see some form of the Cashin plan – meandering the current dreen through planted wetlands and marsh areas creating a natural bio-filtration system – implemented to deal with any stormwater runoff contamination. According to MacAllister, in addition to ensuring Havens Beach was free of any elevated bacteria levels, even after a storm, the plan would also provide vast educational opportunities for children on the East End.
MacAllister said he had already spoken to village officials, who said they were interested in exploring a more comprehensive approach to stormwater discharge in the village, noting the Havens Beach drain is just one of many stormwater sites.
“I think to the credit of the village it sounds as if they want to start addressing stormwater runoff,” said MacAllister. “I feel like even if it is one pipe at a time, we need to make strides. Havens Beach is a priority because it is a public bathing beach and in terms of remediation, you have a blank canvas. You don’t have to rip up roads to accomplish this project.”
Other issues the BayKeeper is trying to tackle include convincing Suffolk County and the State of New York to change their regulations regarding septic systems. MacAllister noted that with increased development and excessive growth comes more septic systems that enrich the ground with nitrates that eventually enter the water, causing a host of problems including algae blooms.
“Looking at a dark shade of green in the summer is not a healthy color,” said MacAllister.
MacAllister said he would like to see the county look into requiring better technology for these systems and at minimum ask for mandatory inspections and replacement of antiquated systems.
The BayKeeper is also working with the Group for the East End on a “Bayscaping Program” designed to encourage people to landscape their properties with the environment in mind, reducing the use of chemicals and relying on native plants.
“We have to shift the paradigm from what I have seen in the last 20 years with people striving towards these trophy lawns,” said MacAllister. “Think about the entire Sag Harbor community, for instance, and what a benefit it would have on the local waters here if people began thinking in that direction.”