By Kathryn G. Menu
More than two years after Suffolk County officials floated the idea as a means for the cash strapped municipality to disperse of property — in this case a county road serving as a parking lot and Sag Harbor landmark — it appears the Suffolk County Legislature may have one pricey Christmas present to offer the Village of Sag Harbor.
On Tuesday, December 4 Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman introduced a bill on the floor of the Suffolk County Legislature giving Long Wharf to the Village of Sag Harbor for $1. On Monday, Schneiderman said he hopes the bill will move into committee and be debated by December 11. The bill will be eligible for a vote before the legislature on December 18.
Schneiderman said he believes the bill’s chances of passing, two years after the county came to the village with the proposal, is likely. He added the findings of a Long Wharf Advisory Committee, formed by the county last year, recommend, in draft form, that the county move forward with the transfer in an effort to finalize the deal.
Schneiderman added he is willing to put up the $1 to make this proposal a reality on behalf of the village.
According to a draft Long Wharf committee report, compiled by Schneiderman’s office, while the first wharf in Sag Harbor was constructed near Baron’s Cove Inn, it was a later project, constructed in a proposal pushed forward by trustees of Southampton and East Hampton towns in 1771 that became what we know as Long Wharf today.
At that point, the wharf stretched 495 feet into Sag Harbor, was 35 feet wide and had 60 feet of bottomland on each side.
According to the report, in September of 1808, East Hampton Town Trustees sold another 300 feet at the end of Long Wharf to New York State for $100 in an effort to expand the wharf, but at the state’s expense. It was again lengthened in August of 1821 to its present length of 1,000 feet.
Schneiderman’s office reported that according to Dr. Henry Moeller, former president of the Suffolk County Archaeological Association, the wharf may have even been further extended at some point, according to remnants of sand and debris-filled wooden cribs the former diver and marine biologist observed in a sonar survey he conducted of the wharf.
Six years after the last whaling ship, the Myra, departing Sag Harbor on April 25 of 1871, the wharf was ravaged by fire started in a warehouse. That was in 1877 and according to The Sag Harbor Corrector, $130,000 worth of damage was caused village wide. The wharf was reconstructed, under supervisor John Foster and Long Island Railroad President Austin Corbin purchased the new wharf as well as the Wharf Company for $20,000.
According to Schneiderman’s report, in 1881, the Fahy’s Watch Case Company purchased the wharf for $10,000, with the LIRR returning to re-purchase the property, which would support businesses like the E.W. Bliss Company – testing torpedoes in Noyac Bay – as well as Agawam Aircraft and Grumman.
Sag Harbor Village would buy Long Wharf, outright, in 1947, for $5,000, however, within a few months faced with the costly repairs required to maintain the wharf the village transferred the deed to Suffolk County for $1, and the pier became a part of the Suffolk County highway system as County Road 81.
Since then, Suffolk County has leased Long Wharf to Sag Harbor Village, which has collected revenues from dockage but has also been responsible for routine maintenance, the county responsible for the more costly, long-term maintenance of Long Wharf. The most recent project completed by the county was a December 2007 project for $75,000 where the county rehabilitated the wharf’s bulkhead.
In 2010, faced with a Suffolk County Department of Public Works report that detailed over $600,000 in long-term maintenance improvements needed at the wharf, then Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy proposed giving the wharf to the village, a proposal begrudgingly accepted by the Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees in 2011. Despite that, the county legislature then rejected the proposal because, according to Schneiderman, western legislators believed “Long Wharf might generate significant revenues for the county.”
Schneiderman did not support that opinion, although once the Long Wharf Advisory Committee was formed he discussed revenue options for the village, including paid parking and charging for events, but largely the concepts were met with opposition by village officials, unwilling to see the wharf unavailable for public use.
According to the Long Wharf Advisory Committee report, the county will rid itself of a liability by gifting the wharf to Sag Harbor Village at almost no expense.
“There is no railing around the pedestrian walkway along the perimeter of Long Wharf,” notes the draft report. “Last year an individual drowned after falling in. As a self-insured entity, the risks associated with ownership of Long Wharf outweigh the benefits. Additionally the wharf currently represents a $100,000 per year capital cost to the county and major capital repairs are projected within 10 years. The county will still benefit from the economic value the Long Wharf adds as a tourist attraction. We therefore recommend transfer of the Long Wharf to the Village of Sag Harbor.”
On Monday, Sag Harbor Mayor Brian Gilbride said he maintained the same position he did two years ago. As village mayor he was pleased to see the Sag Harbor take control of Long Wharf, but at the same time understood it would come at considerable expense with long term maintenance costs, as the county continues to derive sales tax revenues from Sag Harbor without having to put as much into the village for economic development because of its popularity as a resort destination.
According to Gilbride, he would like to see the village set aside $100,000 annually from dock revenues to pay for maintenance costs, and is willing to expend some of the monies placed in a reserve account for repairs towards some of the wharf maintenance that has fell by the wayside. According to Sag Harbor Village Clerk Beth Kamper, any funds expended from that account will be subject to resolution by the village board during a public meeting.
“I would have created a capital plan already for the wharf, but have been advised until it is officially ours we cannot do that,” said Gilbride.
“We have been lucky enough where on a few occasions the county has redone the wharf and in the past couple of years [Harbor Master] Bob Bori has done an excellent job of increasing revenues that I hope we can put some of it into a Long Wharf reserve account,” said Gilbride. “We were down there just the other night for the village ‘light up’ and it is beautiful. It belongs to Sag Harbor, so it should belong to us.”