By Tessa Raebeck
Mark Sypher and his team were in the middle of a construction job when he got a call from Suffolk County telling him to stop what he was doing and head to Bridgehampton.
Under contract with the county, Sypher Construction & Paving works on whatever job the county considers most pressing. On Tuesday, it was installing ramps for turtles along the newly constructed sidewalks on the Bridgehampton/Sag Harbor turnpike.
County Legislator Jay Schneiderman is hopeful that the asphalt inclines, which stretch from the top of the curb about halfway into the bike lanes, will provide a solution for the turtles — and the environmental groups advocating for them — following months of debate surrounding the sidewalks.
Addressing residents’ concern for pedestrian safety on the heavily trafficked road, Schneiderman procured around a million dollars in funding for the project. The neighborhood had “fought for decades for a sidewalk,” according to Julie Hopson, a lifelong resident of the turnpike who had two cousins killed on the road. Hopson delivered a petition with around 400 signatures to Schneiderman in 2004, his first year in office. The installation of a cement curbing and draining system was completed in June.
Members of the South Fork Natural History Museum (SoFo) and the Friends of the Long Pond Greenbelt (FLPG) raised concern about the impact the sidewalks had on turtles, salamanders and other wildlife crossing the turnpike.
The turnpike runs parallel to the western side of the Long Pond Greenbelt, a 1,100-acre nature preserve of ponds, woods and wetlands. Slade Pond, a destination for migrating turtles according to SoFo and FLPG, is separated from the other ponds in the greenbelt by the turnpike.
After consulting experts at the Department of Environmental Conservation, Schneiderman ordered the installation of a 45-degree “turtle-friendly” incline along the curbs under the impression turtles would be able to mount it.
FLPG executive director Dai Dayton said many turtles — especially babies — were still unable to climb over the sidewalk and called for the complete removal of the curbs and drainage.
When the initial project was discussed with community members, Hopson and others asked for traditional curbs.
“Initially, we were doing asphalt curbing and the community was really upset that they weren’t getting traditional curbs, which are really expensive,” said Schneiderman.
On September 4, Schneiderman met with representatives from SoFo, FLPG and the Department of Public Works, who agreed installing an asphalt ramp along the 400 feet of curbs closest to Slade Pond was a necessary fix with the season of migration for baby turtles starting this month.
The $10,000 project was completed on Tuesday. The new ramps “should be really easy for even a baby turtle to get up,” said Schneiderman.