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Sag Harbor Village Harbor Committee Sets Focus on Havens Beach

Posted on 24 September 2010

After a presentation by Peconic BayKeeper Kevin McAllister on water quality on the East End, the Sag Harbor Village Harbor Committee vowed to spend the next year focused on the effort of improving the health of our bays and coves, starting with the remediation of the village’s lone bathing beach Havens Beach.

“I want this on the agenda for the next meeting,” said Harbor Committee chairman Bruce Tait. “It is time for us to stop talking and time for us to start doing.”

The commitment came after McAllister presented the board with photographs of red tide plaguing waters around the East End, including Sag Harbor, during the board’s regular meeting on Monday. He noted that while the specific cause of red tide is unknown it likely has to do with poor water quality, often the result of storm water or septic runoff, or due to the use of chemicals in pools and on the lawns of waterfront properties.

Red Tide, which popped up roughly two weeks earlier than in pervious years this August, has reoccurred on the East End for six years in a row. An algae bloom toxic to both shellfish and finfish, and McAllister has personally seen the blooms from air – the best vantage point to view the bands of crimson tinged water.

“I was shocked in a way,” he said. “I know in years past it has been reported and I have seen it, but this year, it seems to be everywhere.”

While there is healthy debate on the origin of red tide, said McAllister, the algae thrives on nutrients, the levels of which increase when faulty septic systems and chemicals for lawn and pool maintenance seep into the water table.

McAllister said working with Suffolk County officials on changing their own code to protect groundwater from septic leeching is something his organization will be working on in coming weeks.

“Regretfully, we are really in the back of the class,” said McAllister of the county’s oversight over aging septic systems in private homes, which are only looked at should a homeowner expand the residence or tear down the house. McAllister advocated that each time a property changes hands, with or without construction, the septic system should be looked at to ensure older, inefficient systems are being removed and replaced.

In a perfect world, he said, all septic systems in waterfront communities would be state of the art tertiary treatment systems the de-nitrogen waste to extremely low levels. He added the technology is out there, although currently those kinds of septic systems are more expensive and do require more maintenance.

“To a large extent it is a complex and daunting issue,” said McAllister. “It is easier to say we don’t want to deal with it. We need to deal with it. Inevitably, if a septic system is leaking, it is influencing our groundwater.”

“That is essentially what is happening at Tide’s Beach,” said Tait, referring to Havens Beach.

For three years now, the village, McAllister, county officials and even faculty from Stony Brook Southampton have been studying the water quality at Havens Beach, announcing last winter that bacterial levels in an adjacent drainage ditch and occasionally in the beach waters, exceeded county public health standards. Bacteria attributed to animal and human waste was detected in DNA tests completed by the Cornell Cooperative Extension in Riverhead.

Testing has continued throughout this past summer, and Tait has called for a long term maintenance and cleaning schedule for the village’s stormwater runoff drains, some which he said are almost to the brim with fill, others sprouting weeds.

The village has also been exploring installing filters at the mouth of the stormwater run off drain that feeds into the ditch, but have yet to announce a formal plan for how to address excessive bacteria in the ditch.

McAllister said on Monday that he feels strongly that bio-remediation is the answer, a plan looked at a decade ago by village officials, but one that was ultimately shelved in the wake of complaints from neighboring property owners and a lack of funding for what was expected to be a project that would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The bio-remediation plan would entail scrapping out the existing ditch and creating a meandering system of streams and pools within a restored wetlands area. McAllister said he has personally explored the use of a similar system in Spragues Cove in Marion, Massachusetts, which has been successful in combating the effects of stormwater runoff pollution in that community.

“This could be aesthetically pleasing,” said McAllister. “We could rally the community around this.”

Tait requested that Warren update the committee about the village’s progress in developing a plan for Havens Beach at the board’s October 4 meeting, and also asked the board of trustees furnish the harbor committee with the complete bacterial testing results for the last year.

“If we don’t do anything for the rest of the year, our number one priority should be Tides Beach,” said committee member Jeffrey Peters.

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