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Volunteerism is Alive and Well in Sag Harbor

Posted on 22 May 2009

“Sag Harbor Village and the surrounding area does not seem apathetic,” Gail Slevin said on Sunday. “It is hard to walk down Main Street without being stopped to sign a petition every day.”

For Slevin, getting involved in some of the numerous causes championed by village residents began when local activist Mia Grosjean knocked on her door in the early 1990s, looking for support for traffic calming on Route 114 coming into Sag Harbor.

The very next day, said Slevin, two women showed up at her door dressed as cows, decrying development of the Cilli Farm.

And that was just the beginning for Slevin, who is a member of the Friends of the John Jermain Memorial Library and the Sag Harbor Tree Fund, among other village organizations. Slevin joined over 50 village residents of a similar spirit at Sunday afternoon’s Save Sag Harbor-sponsored community meeting, which was conceived to bring together the dozens of village volunteer organizations together to update each other on goals and fundraisers, some finding common ground and an inspiration to work together on future projects.

“As I see Sag Harbor, it is a real American village with a real American can-do spirit,” said Grosjean, who is president of Save Sag Harbor, the organization that sponsored the forum. Grosjean noted Sag Harbor is home to over 20 volunteer-centered organizations, and it is incumbent on organizations such as these to tackle issues communities can’t delegate to its local government.

“Realizing many hands do make light work,” Save Sag Harbor decided to host the forum, said Grosjean, to bring the village’s varied groups together.

Gigi Morris, who has developed the local environmental group 725-GREEN, opened the meeting by discussing the work her fledgling organization has begun in an effort to create a more sustainable Sag Harbor.

“I am hoping people will start taking ownership of this as we paint our village green,” she said, noting several businesses are looking at putting solar panels on their roofs, and since the organization started offering them, at least 40 residents have had home energy audits in the hopes of reducing their carbon footprint. The group is also looking to help the Sag Harbor Historical and Whaling Museum develop a village-wide green festival out of its second annual energy fair in July.

“I hope we can have community forums regularly,” said Morris, noting it would be beneficial for community groups to act “proactively and progressively as one group, and not as separate groups.”

Morris’s 725-GREEN was one of several environmental groups present at Sunday’s event. Friends of the Long Pond Greenbelt, the Peconic Baykeeper, the Sag Harbor Tree Committee and the Dark Sky Society also had representatives on hand.

While he may have butted heads with Sag Harbor officials over the last three years over the possibility of a stormwater runoff problem at Havens Beach, Peconic Baykeeper Kevin MacAllister told the crowd on Sunday that he was committed to working with the village towards a solution at the popular bathing beach.

“There are problems in the ditch – no question about it,” said MacAllister, who vowed to continue testing at the site with the help of Stony Brook Southampton associate professor Chris Gobler through the summer season.

“We need people to participate because apathy is going to destroy our village, destroy our quality of life and destroy our waterways,” said MacAllister.

Ken Dorph, literally wearing several hats on Sunday – including the frog of the Friends of the Long Pond Greenbelt (FLPG) – advocated not only for that organization’s mission towards the preservation, stewardship and appreciation of the Long Pond Greenbelt, but also updated the crowd on his hopes for a Safe Routes to School program in Sag Harbor and announced a lecture on the Middle East later this summer at the John Jermain Memorial Library.

The FLPG, which holds educational walks, keeps the Greenbelt clean and actively removes invasive species from the 600-acre preserve, has also been responsible for a grasslands restoration project at Vineyard Field, located just behind the South Fork Natural History Museum off the Sag Harbor-Bridgehampton Turnpike.

Wearing a bike helmet, Dorph also expressed his hopes that Sag Harbor will eventually benefit from federal Safe Routes to School funding and called on village officials to develop a master plan to deal with traffic calming projects throughout Sag Harbor.

Safe Routes to School is a federally funded program that encourages biking and walking to school – an environmental benefit, but also a measure to cut down on the high incidences of childhood obesity in the United States. Sag Harbor Village, with the help of Dorph, made strides last year to benefit from the program, but did not meet the application deadline, losing out on hundreds of thousands in funds had the application been approved, said Dorph.

“That cycle of funding is over, but I have talked to Congressman [Tim] Bishop and we may be able to get in on the next round,” said Dorph.

He credited Mayor Greg Ferraris for attempting to implement traffic calming on Jermain Avenue, which connects the schools in Sag Harbor to Mashashimuet Park, but said he would like to see a master plan implemented by village officials to address roadways.

The forum also hosted a number of community organizations including the cancer resource center Fighting Chance, the Sag Harbor Food Pantry, the Sag Harbor Youth Committee, The Retreat, the Mashashimuet Park Board and Youth Advocacy and Resource Development (YARD). Groups like the Sag Harbor Historical Society and the Old Burial Ground Committee also explained their missions towards preserving Sag Harbor history.

The Coalition of Neighborhoods for the Preservation of Sag Harbor (CONPOSH) represents an umbrella organization of sorts, advocating and hosting forums on any issue brought up in Sag Harbor from water quality to traffic to development. CONPOSH will also host a “Meet the Candidates” forum on June 7 to inform the community about candidates running for office in Sag Harbor.

Similarly, Save Sag Harbor was formed two years ago in an effort to preserve the mom-and-pop character of the village’s business district, but has evolved into an organization that also promotes community events and organization, and keeps its membership, which is in the thousands, updated via e-mail on government and community news.

Supportive of the village’s zoning code revision – legislation just weeks away from adoption – Grosjean said the organization’s focus would return to promoting Main Street, Sag Harbor through a marketing campaign.

“We realize without a Main Street that is alive and well, this is not Sag Harbor,” said Grosjean. 


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