Is there no friendly public place in Sag Harbor for the four-legged friends so many count as members of their family to frolic freely?
That was the question a handful of Sag Harbor residents asked the Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees during their Tuesday, September 9 meeting, focusing on Havens Beach, a popular spot for dog owners to walk their canine companions. Dogs can often be seen romping in the grassy expanse behind the popular bathing spot, despite signs that popped up over the summer warning owners that dogs were prohibited at Havens Beach.
On Tuesday, Sag Harbor resident Tom Leo noted that he tried to find a place to walk his dog after learning they were banned from Havens, finally going to a field near East Hampton Airport, only to have his dogs come home covered in fleas. This week, Leo heard dogs were allowed back at the beach after an incident involving the Sag Harbor Village Police and asked the board to clarify what the law was regarding dogs at Havens Beach.
On Sunday, September 7 an anonymous caller complaining about dogs at the beach summoned village police. According to police, they found a Sag Harbor resident in the grassy area with his dog, and after reviewing village code, had no cause for further action.
According to village code, “dogs and other animals shall be prohibited from the beach and play areas of Havens Beach and Marine Park from the Thursday preceding Memorial Day through and including the Tuesday following Labor Day under all circumstances.”
The law also mandates owners pick up after their dogs and any person who violates the law can be subject to a fine not to exceed $250 or imprisonment for not more than 15 days.
But as Sag Harbor Mayor Greg Ferraris explained on Tuesday, one of the reasons dogs have been banned at the beach is that the village, with the help of the Peconic BayKeeper and Stony Brook Southampton, is nearing the end of a water quality testing program at Havens Beach after public concern over pollution there reached a fever pitch last year. The village hopes the testing, set to end in November, will be able to pinpoint whether there is water pollution at Havens and from what source.
“Hopefully this is just a temporary issue,” said Ferraris, adding the village was trying to hold off on allowing dogs back at Havens until the testing is complete.
On Wednesday, Ferraris noted that the board of trustees can put a public safety policy in place — like extending a ban on dogs at Havens Beach — in a situation like this.
“If there is a pollution issue, we have to try and pinpoint the cause, and we have to base our opinions on factual, scientific data rather than rumor and assumptions,” he said.
Elisa Nevel, another Sag Harbor resident, said that she noticed “noxious smelling dirty water” draining into the bay at least six years ago, long before the area became popular for dog owners, and took it upon herself to send samples to the county. She charged “it doesn’t take a lot of study” to know the cause of the pollution could be from a number of sources including the stormwater drains, boats illegally dumping and the influx of big homes in the area.
“It’s not our dog waste,” said Nevel.
“The whole group that comes down here has been extremely responsible,” said resident Judy Clempner. “Dogs are an important part of the community and a big part of the Sag Harbor community.”
Clempner said she respects the village’s need to continue testing and keep the area free of dogs until November, although she does not believe the cause of any pollution will be dog waste. Clempner’s hope is after the testing period, the area will be re-opened to animals, and possibly made a designated dog park.
“That grassy area is almost never used for anything else,” she noted.Â