A Sag Harbor resident is potentially facing thousands of dollars in fines from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC). This comes after she allegedly cleared a swath of phragmites and marsh shrubs on the edge of her Oakland Avenue property that faces Otter Pong in Sag Harbor.
According to NYSDEC spokesman Bill Fonda, in early August his department received a complaint through New York Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr.’s office about a resident who cleared vegetation to the border of Otter Pond.
The agency investigated the site on August 10, according to Fonda, and observed that a 50-foot-by-90-foot section of the property, containing primarily phragmites and some high marsh shrubs had been cut to grade.
As of last week, a notice of violation was being drafted to the owner of the property, Claudette Romano. The violation carries the potential of a $10,000 a day fine plus the cost of tidal marsh restoration said Fonda.
He added that the homeowner has 30 days to respond to the NYSDEC, which will ask that she come in for a conference to discuss the situation.
Attempts to reach Romano were unsuccessful.
According to Fonda, the potential fine is not uncommon. He said the tidal wetlands unit of the NYSDEC “probably issues the most permits of any DEC unit.”
“There are certainly over a thousand permits issued a year,” added Fonda, noting the unit also leads the agency “in the amount of violations issued.”
“It comes as a consequence of being on an island surrounded by wetlands,” said Fonda. “From our viewpoint, this is an ongoing investigation.”
The Mashashimuet Park Board, which owns the property directly surrounding Otter Pond, has worked for the better part of a decade to obtain a NYSDEC permit to prune phragmites around Otter Pond.
Last week, park board president Jean Irvine said the park board has abided by its permit and in no way had anything to do with the cutting at the 36 Oakland Avenue parcel.
“We are investigating the situation,” said Irvine, affirming it appears that some of the cutting occurred on park property.
“The park didn’t cut it and we are taking every step possible to ensure things are corrected,” she said.
According to the Sag Harbor Village code, approval would not just be required from the NYSDEC, but also from the village, for any cutting of this nature. It states that no clearing, digging or dredging can occur within 150-feet of wetlands without a permit, and any clearing, or use of herbicides requires a setback requirement to the wetlands of 50-feet.
According to Sag Harbor Village environmental planning consultant Rich Warren, that 50-foot setback requirement is actually less than what you see required in most communities, including Southampton Town. East Hampton Town, like Sag Harbor, only requires the 50-foot setback.
A violation of this village code carries a fine of no more than $1,000, although once cited by the village a homeowner can be charged for each consecutive day the clearing stands without re-vegetation.
Sag Harbor Village Building Inspector Tim Platt did not return calls for comment.