By Kathryn G. Menu
Morning, noon and night, the municipal bathrooms on Main Street in Sag Harbor remained closed to the public on weekends, and, according to some business owners, that just stinks.
On Tuesday night, Wharf Shop owner Nada Barry and Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce President Kelly Connaughton approached the village board asking for relief for business owners, and their patrons, desperate for Main Street facilities.
With the public restrooms in the Municipal Building closed to the public at night and on the weekends, there is one public bathroom on Bay Street near Marine Park available for those in downtown Sag Harbor. According to Barry, it is just not enough.
“A number of years ago, [the bathrooms in the Municipal Building] were open until 10 p.m. at night and then they cut back to 9 p.m., then to 8 p.m. and 6 p.m. and now they have been closed for the last year on the weekends,” said Barry. “This is such a detriment for businesses, community and the residents of Sag Harbor.”
Barry, visibly angry, added she has even offered to provide supervision of the bathrooms if that would help keep them open during the busiest days of the week.
“We put $100,000 into those bathrooms and shortly after that was done it didn’t take long at all before the bathrooms are clogged up and water was running out the doors,” said Mayor Brian Gilbride. After two or three times of finding the new bathrooms trashed, the decision was made to close them on the weekends.
“But Brian, things happen in public restrooms but that doesn’t mean they will always happen again,” said Barry adding the village could install surveillance cameras to catch culprits who have caused significant damage if that is the board’s concern.
The village already has a surveillance camera installed in the hallway the bathrooms are located in.
Barry noted she has elderly patrons, and children, who are unable to make the trek to Bay Street when they feel the urge.
According to superintendent of public works Dee Yardley, one of the concerns in the Municipal Building is when the bathrooms flood, they flood into the basement, causing more than just superficial damage.
“I am asking perhaps if there is a way we can work with the village to find a solution to this problem,” said Connaughton. “It is not just an issue for one person. I don’t know what the forum is for that, but I would like us to be able to start a dialogue.”
Gilbride said his main concern is the destruction of the bathrooms. In addition to clogged sinks and toilets, he said toilets have literally been cracked and feces strewn throughout the public bathrooms.
“The damage is easier to repair down by Bay Street than it is here,” said Gilbride. “Maybe when we did these we perhaps should not have been so fancy.”
“They are very nice,” replied Connaughton.
“This is definitely an issue,” said trustee Ken O’Donnell, owner of La Superica. “I have been approached by other merchants.”
“I would like to hear what the chamber comes up with,” said board member Robby Stein, noting caring for the bathrooms is one issue, but so is security of the building.
“I agree,” said O’Donnell, who will meet with Connaughton and Stein in an effort to find a solution. “The problem is people look at a toilet as a trash facility.”
Residents Continue Call for Drainage
Angela Scott, one of several residents and business owners that have called on the village board to address drainage issues in Sag Harbor, was back before the village board Tuesday night presenting a petition calling for just that during the first meeting of a new Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees.
The petition, signed by 167 residents and 20 business owners, calls for improvements to the municipal drainage system, a commitment to assess future building projects in terms of drainage impact and calls for a moratorium on all development that requires the installation of an above ground septic system and changes in topography until a village-wide plan is adopted.
“I hope you will take this petition seriously and act on our request because this is an issue that has gained momentum,” said Scott.
According to Gilbride, the village is poised to file for a hazard mitigation grant. It would enable the village to designate low lying areas in Sag Harbor and look at ways of improving drainage or creating preventative measures to protect neighborhoods in the event of a storm like Superstorm Sandy, which left many in low lying areas of Sag Harbor underwater.
O’Donnell added that instead of a generator being placed full time on the pump that helps drainage in the Garden, Howard and Spring streets neighborhood, Yardley was exploring a mobile pump that could move from affected community to affected community. It would run on diesel, he noted, making it unsusceptible to power outages.
Environmentalist Larry Penny, who offered his expertise to the village on a volunteer basis, said he hopes the village looks at a truly comprehensive plan to deal with this issue and considers revitalizing and reclaiming wetlands that stretch from downtown Sag Harbor to Otter Pond and Ligonee Brook.
“I just hope you would make this as comprehensive as possible,” said Penny.
Harrison Calls for Focus on Water Quality
Also on Tuesday night, local real estate agent Simon Harrison called on the village board to consider strict regulations – including setbacks to water for where fertilizers can be used – in the wake of increased concerns about the water quality in Sag Harbor.
For the second straight year, Sag Harbor and Upper Sag Harbor Coves have faced shellfish closures after the discovery of a marine biotoxin in shellfish meat.
Harrison is a water quality advocate who has grown oysters at the village’s fixed dock next to the Breakwater Yacht Club in an effort to increase the oyster population in Sag Harbor waters. Oysters act as natural filters, consuming algae and filtering as much as two gallons of water per hour. With the introduction of an oyster reef or garden, bay grasses thrive, which in turn increases oxygen levels in the water, preventing erosion and creating habitats for marine life.
Stein agreed a comprehensive plan needs to be considered to encourage the proliferation of shellfish beds, and to control the use of things detrimental to water quality like fertilizers.
Gilbride and trustee Ed Deyermond also suggested the village could look at implementing a septic rebate program similar to Southampton Town to get residents to upgrade their systems.
“It’s a great program we should be starting here, especially in places like Bay Street and over in Redwood,” said Deyermond, who added he would like to see a coalition of town and village representatives come together and discuss water quality issues.
Lastly, Gilbride was unable to get a second motion appointing former trustee Ed Gregory to the Harbor Committee in lieu of current member Jeff Peters. Peters will remain on the board until Gilbride can get a majority of the board to ratify that appointment.