On Sunday, India Attias and the sixth grade girls competing in the under 14 rowing competition at the Long Island Junior Rowing Championships won their race. The girls proudly wore their medals during a Tuesday night Sag Harbor Village Board meeting where they were fighting a different kind of battle — to keep Sag Harbor Community Rowing at its Cove Park home after its license with the village expires next year.
“Sag Harbor is a waterfront community with deep traditions in rowing,” said Attias. “Is that not why we have whaling races at HarborFest each year?”
Attias was joined by scores of other children and adults who are also part of the rowing club. She was responding to the friction that has emerged between the rowing club and the village, which has allowed the club to use the public park in Redwood as its base of operations for four years.
However, earlier this spring as the board of trustees renewed the not-for-profit’s license to use Cove Park, board members led by Mayor Brian Gilbride questioned whether Sag Harbor Community Rowing would be able to stay at the facility after 2012. The mayor cited continued calls by club owner Lee Oldak for the construction of a removable, floating dock as evidence that the group may be growing too large for the space.
At that March meeting, Mayor Gilbride suggested it may be time for the club to find a new home in Sag Harbor, perhaps at a location like Havens Beach.
On Tuesday, Attias implored the board to reconsider.
“Cove Park offers the best access to Sag Harbor Cove, the best protection for rowers and equipment,” she said, noting the club’s activities do not infringe on any other recreational pursuits in the cove and that the club continually invites members of the community to hop in a scull and join them on the water.
“Great job, ladies, and to the rest of the club that is all here,” Mayor Gilbride said after Attias finished her speech.
After the meeting, Mayor Gilbride said he had been informed children at the rowing club were being told that the Mayor of Sag Harbor did not support them and was unnerved by that kind of action.
“We let them stay there this year and what we said was they are growing at such a rate that it might not be the right spot next season,” he said, adding he does see the value of the rowing club in providing students an opportunity to compete in a sport that can help them get into college.
“I think the kids are doing a wonderful job,” said Mayor Gilbride. “If the owner can stay under the radar and the club doesn’t grow much larger I think they will be fine at Cove Park.”
On Wednesday, Oldak said the reason he brought students to the village board meeting was to present the true face of Sag Harbor Community Rowing— the children who compete under its banner.
“This is primarily a program for children,” said Oldak. “We are not too big for that park and none of the neighbors have complained about us using it.”
Oldak said the program serves about 30 students from Sag Harbor, Bridgehampton, East Hampton and Springs, as well as about six adults.
“Cove Park was an underused park,” added Oldak. “No one knew about it. I think we brought to light what a great park it is.”