First there were threats. Then there was a deal. Then there was no deal and now things may stay the same.
That is the short story in what has been a year long debate over the future of Sag Harbor’s Long Wharf, an intrinsic part of the village’s waterfront, but technically a county road.
For over a year now, the village has been negotiating to take over the Long Wharf completely, handling not only the annual maintenance of the facility, which it already does, but also taking on the costly, long-term capital repairs the wharf will need to survive throughout the years.
Those repairs have traditionally been paid for and completed by the Suffolk County Department of Public Works.
After the Suffolk County Legislature waffled this summer on whether or not to sell Long Wharf to Sag Harbor — an initiative pushed forward by Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy’s office last fall — it appears a sale could move forward or at the very least, the county could continue to lease the wharf to the village at no cost, as it historically has done.
Last week, the Suffolk County Legislature passed a resolution giving the Commissioner of the Public Works Gil Anderson the right to sell or give Long Wharf, along with a number of other county roads that are currently maintained by smaller municipalities, to the towns or villages the roads lie in.
Anderson will be able to pass the ownership on without the approval of the Suffolk County Legislature, according to Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman.
“He will not have the authority to force them to take it, but if they want Long Wharf he has the authority to give it to them without going back to the legislature,” said Schneiderman.
Anderson is not required to offer the wharf to the Village of Sag Harbor, said Schneiderman, who added he would be meeting with Anderson in coming weeks to discuss the situation.
Last fall, county officials offered to sell the Long Wharf and the adjacent Windmill Beach to the Village of Sag Harbor for one dollar. The county would not continue to pay for long-term maintenance under the deal, including $340,000 in repairs the county’s department of public works has estimated Long Wharf will need in the next five years.
Initially, after village officials expressed concerns over being able to take on the financial burden of Long Wharf, county officials hinted at the possibility that the county could sell the wharf or take over its operations itself, collecting the revenues from boat slip rentals instead of the Village of Sag Harbor.
According to Sag Harbor Mayor Brian Gilbride, while during a banner 2009 the wharf brought in $90,000 in revenues, the average amount of money the village collects from dockage at the wharf is closer to $50,000 annually.
However, Sag Harbor Village attorney Fred W. Thiele, Jr. questioned the legality of the county selling Long Wharf, and Mayor Gilbride questioned whether the county could afford to maintain and run the wharf in its annual budget.
By last February, the village board of trustees passed a resolution allowing Sag Harbor Village to take ownership of the wharf and Windmill Beach, but by the summer the county legislature voted against the sale, requesting time to study the value of Long Wharf. Schneiderman supported the sale to Sag Harbor Village.
“Now, I think we are in a much better place for the Village of Sag Harbor,” said Schneiderman on Monday. “The village only wanted the wharf because the county was saying it wouldn’t maintain it. Now, if they want it, they can have it, but maybe can also go back to the way things were and work out a deal where we can increase revenues on the wharf and maybe share some of those revenues.”
Schneiderman said in addition to holding a fundraiser – through the newly conceived Friends of The Long Wharf – to help offset the cost of maintaining Long Wharf, the village and county could also look at initiatives like setting up a small passenger ferry service from the wharf.
“There are a lot of ideas I would like to explore for revenues at the wharf, but it will depend on if the village would like to do it,” said Schneiderman.
Paid parking is not one of those ideas, he added.
The Friends of the Long Wharf committee, a group made up of several county officials, as well as Mayor Gilbride, Sag Harbor Chamber of Commerce President Robert Evjen and Jack Joyce from the Sag Harbor Historical Society, will begin discussing these ideas at a meeting next Tuesday afternoon.
There is currently no lease in place for Long Wharf between the village and the county. On Tuesday, Mayor Gilbride noted the village is still maintaining it, and paying for insurance.
He added he has been willing to work with the county from the outset, but does need to know whether or not the village needs to budget the $100,000 it planned to put in a reserve account for the long-term maintenance of Long Wharf. Revenue sharing, he added, was not likely a viable option. Mayor Gilbride estimates the village spends between $40,000 and $60,000 on caring for the wharf after it applies the $50,000 it collects in revenues from boat slip rentals.
“I am the mayor that is willing to bite the bullet and take Long Wharf,” said Mayor Gilbride. “We will work with the county, but profit sharing is not going to work out for us.”