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Boat Party in Jeopardy

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web Boat Party 2010

by David McCabe

The Sag Harbor Village’s Harbor Committee discussed issues related to an annual boat party in Sag Harbor during its meeting on Monday, opening up the possibility that village authorities could stop the event from happening this year.

Bruce Tait, the chair of the Harbor Committee, told the event’s organizer, Charles Canavan, that he could order a consistency review of the event — which assesses if a proposal is in line with the policies outlined in the village’s Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan (LWRP). That would make it more difficult for the party to take place in Sag Harbor Cove, where it has been held since 2010.

Tait noted that if the board’s hypothetical review were to find the proposal inconsistent with LWRP policies, then the state would have to overrule the board before the event could take place.

The boat party, which drew some 150 to 200 vessels last year, has been in existence for around two decades. Every year, boats and their owners have converged at a location on the East End to eat, drink and listen to live bands which perform on a barge set up by organizers. However, that location has hardly remained constant. In the past, the event has been held within the jurisdiction of Shelter Island and East Hampton, but both town’s passed ordinances that would have required the party’s organizers to file for an event permit.

Now, it may be Sag Harbor’s turn to give the party the heave ho.

At the Harbor Committee meeting, members of that board, led by Tait, raised concerns about the potential environmental impacts of the event.

“We’re concerned about so many boats and so many people congregating in such an environmentally sensitive area,” Tait said.

Sag Harbor Cove, which is the site of multiple shellfish beds, has been the focus of studies in recent years that indicate it is particularly susceptible to environmental pollution, said Tait. When the State of New York conducted dye tests on the area — which involve pigment being released into the water to assess which way it flows and how fast —  Tait said the dye left the cove, but then went back in, indicating the cove has a weak “flush” system. In basic terms, this means that water does not strongly circulate through the cove.

The committee told Canavan, one of three people in attendance at the meeting, that it was worried party goers would need access to restroom facilities which would be unavailable on some of the smaller boats.

“I know that when I start drinking at 12 o’clock and go on to 6 o’clock that there’s a certain point that I would need to find the facilities,” said Tait.

“I know for a fact that there are many, many boats that are under 20 feet that don’t have holding tanks, that don’t have facilities,” Tait added.

Canavan protested that local authorities seem to like the party’s presence. He claimed that when he almost shut down last year’s boat party because of inclement weather, members of the police department urged him not to.

He also said the event serves people of all ages, from seniors down to children.

“What I’ve noticed in the past is grandparents dancing with their grandchildren,” he said.

Canavan said that his event will likely raise funds for the non-profit Peconic BayKeeper, which aims to protect the Peconic Bay. He indicated that the Peconic BayKeeper himself — Kevin MacAllister — would attend the Harbor Committee’s next meeting.

Tait expressed worry Wednesday that having McAllister give a statement on the environmental impact of the boat party when his group stands to gain financially from the event could create the appearance of impropriety.

“I’m a little concerned about the money trail on that,” he said.

Tait also said he is personally wary of an event that puts swimmers in close proximity to outboard motors.

“In this thing you have boats and swimmers co-mingling with no lines of delineation between the two,” he said.

The Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees has introduced legislation aimed at allowing the village to regulate mass gatherings — events over 75 people — even if it is held on the water. A public hearing on that legislation will be held at next month’s village board meeting on July 10.

The committee tabled the discussion, but Tait said he plans to bring it up at the Harbor Committee’s July 9 session.