Tag Archive | "Sag Harbor Cove"

Toxic Tide Shows Up Early in Sag Harbor

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High levels of Cochlodinium detected in Sag Harbor cove last week could put shellfish and finfish at risk. 

By Mara Certic

Just weeks after blue-green algal blooms were detected in Georgica Pond, extremely high levels of the toxic rust alga Cochlodinium have emerged in Sag Harbor and East Hampton waters.

Cochlodinium first appeared on Long Island in 2004 and has been detected in local waters every summer since. According to Professor Christopher Gobler, who conducts water quality testing and is a professor at Stony Brook University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, densities above 500 cells per milliliter can be lethal to both finfish and shellfish. The Gobler Laboratory recorded Cochlodinium at densities exceeding 30,000 cells per milliliter in Sag Harbor Cove, and over 1,000 in Accabonac and Three Mile Harbors.

The eastern location and timing of this year’s bloom surprised scientists, because for the past 11 years, the water quality experts have tracked west-to-east algal migration. “With blooms typically emerging in the tributaries of the far-western Peconic Estuary in mid-to-late August,” Professor Gobler said.

“Our Long Island Water Quality Index program samples all of Long Island from Queens to Montauk on a weekly basis and has found the western Peconics to be clear of rust tide.  Late last week, we saw rust tide at moderate levels in East Hampton and thought it might be a blip,” he said.

“However, this week, the rust tide spread to at least three distinct harbors and reached a level in Sag Harbor we have not seen anywhere on Long Island in several years.”

According to a laboratory technician who helps conduct the water quality testing for the Trustees, Cochlodinium was detected in small amounts in Accabonac Harbor two weeks ago. The algae were not visible at that time, he said, but made it more difficult to see the sea floor.

The following week, the rust tide was detected in similar levels in Three Mile Harbor and at levels so high in Sag Harbor Cove that the algae bloom was noticeable on the surface of the water in some areas.

Professor Gobler might have an explanation as to why these blooms appeared in Eastern waters this year. “We have found that nitrogen loading makes these blooms more intense and more toxic. As nitrogen loading has increased into our bays, these events have intensified,” he said in the release.

Professor Gobler addressed the Southampton Town Board during a work session on Thursday, August 7, during which he proposed two projects, which would provide the scientific data local lawmakers need to mitigate nitrogen loading.

The first of these proposals would be a series of questions online which would allow residents to figure out their nitrogen contribution to the watershed. “This can certainly be tailored, improved upon and altered,” Professor Gobler said, adding that it could even be on the new Southampton Town website.

Professor Gobler said that outdated septic systems are responsible for the majority of the nitrogen loading on the East End. Southampton Town has been looking towards developing water quality technology and improving septic systems.

“What level of nitrogen reduction, on a bigger picture, does that require? And that’s a question that no one can answer these days,” Supervisor Throne-Holst said at the work session. The second proposal would attempt to determine by how much nitrogen levels would need to be reduced.

“We’re all dedicated to trying to figure out any way possible not to kill the health of the bay,” Sag Harbor Village Trustee Robby Stein said in a phone interview on Wednesday. “We’re trying to do what we can,” he said, adding that the Village is trying to encourage better policy around nitrogen loading, and has recently created a septic rebate system, which would provide rebates for the replacement of septic systems installed before 1981.

Professor Gobler’s lab has also begun to understand why these algae blooms have occurred every year since they were first detected. “We have discovered the organism makes cysts or seeds, which wait at the bottom of the bay and emerge each summer to start a new bloom,” he said. “At the end of the bloom, they turn back into cysts and settle back to the bay bottom.  This allows for the blooms to return every year.”

During the rust tides of the past few years, scallop populations decreased dramatically in the Peconic Estuary. This year’s high Cochlodinium densities in Sag Harbor have not been seen for a few years, Professor Gobler said.

“While this is somewhat uncharted territory, we anticipate the rust tide will spread and emerge in the western Peconics and Shinnecock Bay in the coming weeks,” he said.

Professor Gobler said that blooms typically continue until water temperatures drop below 60 degrees.

Larger finfish typically can outswim the algal blooms, and are not always affected by the toxic tides. Fish stuck in pound traps, however, can be killed in a matter of hours when the tides roll in.

And although scallops are better swimmers than other bivalves, it is unlikely that they would be able to swim away from a lethal tide. “They’re at the mercy of the environment,” said John “Barley” Dunne, director of the East Hampton Shellfish Hatchery. “They can’t escape an algae bloom,” he said.


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.

Shellfishing Closed in Sag Harbor Cove After Toxin is Detected

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Photo courtesy of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

Sag Harbor and Upper Sag Harbor Coves have been closed for the harvesting of shellfish until further notice. This news came after the state discovered a marine biotoxin in the coves last week. The toxin — saxitoxin — can cause paralytic shellfish poisoning.

On Thursday, April 26 The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) closed the 490 acres of the coves and their tributaries west of the Lance Corporal Jordan Haerter Veterans Memorial Bridge.

According to DEC officials, the decision to close the area to shellfishing came after the toxin was discovered in shellfish collected from a monitoring site in Sag Harbor Cove.

In addition to shellfish, residents are also prohibited from harvesting carnivorous gastropods like conch as those creatures feed on shellfish and may also have accumulated the toxin at levels that are hazardous to human health.

According to a spokesperson with the regional office of the DEC, Aphrodite Montalvo, the toxin discovered in Sag Harbor Cove is a neurotoxin produced by a naturally occurring algae such as Alexandrium, a marine dinoflagellate that is often attributed to the notorious red tide.

The species is most commonly found in environments with high nitrogen levels.

In the last year, both Peconic Baykeeper Kevin McAllister and Dr. Christopher Gobler, an associate professor at Stony Brook University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, have presented findings showing that the increased density of residential development across Long Island has spiked nitrogen levels in waters leading to both red and brown tides.

Earlier in April, DEC closed areas in western Shinnecock Bay as well as Northport Harbor and parts of Northport Bay for the harvesting of shellfish for the same reason. Those bodies of water remain closed.

According to Montalvo, the DEC will test shellfish in the coves sometime this week. Following guidelines from the National Shellfish Sanitation Program (NSSP), Montalvo said the DEC will need to produce three clean tests on shellfish in Sag Harbor Cove over a two week period before it can open the area to shellfish harvesting again.

Areas that have tested positive for toxins, added Montalvo, are sampled weekly by the DEC. Currently, said Montalvo, the DEC has 18 monitoring sites around Long Island set up each early spring before algae blooms are expected to occur. Those stations are tested weekly until the blooms decline, which usually happens in late June or early July depending on the temperature of the water.

The DEC also receives oyster samples from two aquaculture facilities for regular testing, said Montalvo.

For the many families raising oysters in Sag Harbor Cove, Montalvo said that during the closure residents should be mindful that shellfish that take in the algae can accumulate enough toxin in their flesh to be harmful if consumed with the potential to cause paralytic shellfish poisoning. However, she added that being filter feeders, once the algae bloom dissipates the shellfish will filter the toxin out of its flesh as it takes in clean water and will be safe for consumption over time.

In its news release last week, the DEC said it would re-open areas to shellfishing as soon as possible based on the results of further testing. For updates on the closure, call the DEC’s hotline at 444-0480 or contact the DEC’s main shellfishing office at 444-0475.

The Oyster Club Comes to Sag Harbor

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When summer wanes and the winter chill sets in, Bay Burger proprietor Joe Tremblay always finds he has more time on his hands. Instead of spending these months unwinding, though, Tremblay can be found researching eco-friendly septic tanks, participating in 725 GREEN meetings or visiting up-island waste management sites.
Now, with help from the Cornell Cooperative’s Southold Project on Aquaculture Training (SPAT), Tremblay is starting an Oyster Club for waterfront property owners on Sag Harbor Cove in the hopes of helping them farm their own oysters. The club isn’t solely focused on the culinary aspect of raising and feasting upon this shellfish delicacy. Tremblay hopes the group will change residents’ attitudes toward the Peconic Estuary.
“I think this is a great way to engage waterfront property owners in the water that they live on,” opined Tremblay. “The water is degraded because everyone is polluting it just a little bit, so we can only fix the problem by having everyone work on it.”
“If I can get the majority of waterfront homeowners ‘tending a garden’ in the cove or eating seafood from the cove, then it’s in their own personal best interest to care about how they and their neighbors might negatively impact the cove,” added Tremblay.
East End waters are subject to a host of environmental problems, said Tremblay, including the recent brown tides. Everything from lawn pesticides to storm water runoff can harm the delicate ecosystem of the cove. Tremblay says these problems may be to blame for the water’s murky quality in the summer and a substantial loss of eelgrass, which shellfish like scallops depend on for their survival.
Will Kirchoff, who attended the club’s introductory meeting at Bay Burger on Sunday, May 3, noted that water quality has drastically declined since his youth.
“I remember as a kid coming out here and the water was crystal clear. You could see eight feet down, even in the summer,” Kirchoff remembers. “We need to try and bring the harbor back … a lot of people are taking this beauty for granted but we can’t just take, take, take.”
Revitalizing the oyster population is one piece, albeit an important one, in the puzzle of clarifying the cove’s waters. Because oysters are filter feeders, they often digest pollutants and thus help purify the water. Kim Tetrault, who runs the Southold Cooperative, told Tremblay that all the water in the Chesapeake Bay was filtered through the guts of oysters at least once a day when the estuary was at its peak, but it now takes almost 135 days for the water to be fully filtered. The depopulation of oysters in the Chesapeake Bay, as well as in Sag Harbor Cove, can be attributed in part to over harvesting. Tremblay said sightings of wild oysters in the cove today is a rarity akin to spotting a whale from the beach.
With the support of the Oyster Club’s 22 members, Tremblay hopes to reverse this trend. Each member will receive 1,000 seed oysters. The gear, mainly consisting of a cage to house the oysters, the necessary training and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation permits are all included in the annual dues: $250 for the first year and $150 each additional year.
These oyster-growing accoutrements are all provided by SPAT, though Tremblay has offered to make a run up to Southold and pick up gear and oyster seeds for everyone involved. For now, the DEC is issuing permits only to waterfront property owners. Members without access to the water can harvest their oysters at the Southold station. A few cove property owners have stepped forward and will allow members to attach oyster cages to their docks. Tremblay said members should expect to yield between 75 to 80 percent of their total seed, which translates into a sizable number of oysters.
Tremblay maintains, however, that most members aren’t joining for the pleasure of noshing on the fruits of their labor. He referenced a survey conducted by SPAT which noted, on average, that eating oysters was only the eighth most popular reason to join the cooperative.
“I actually don’t eat oysters,” said Kirchoff at the meeting on Sunday. “I wanted to help the local environment.”
Southampton Town also jumped on this initiative and will allow 40 town residents to place oyster cages off a dock in Tiana Beach in Hampton Bays.
Tremblay’s club will host monthly educational lectures, including “Water Quality, Brown Tides and Harmful Algae” in July and “Configuring and Maintaining Oyster Gardens” in June. On Sunday, members asked questions on how to open oysters. Tremblay said a cooking class could be scheduled down the line and hosted at his restaurant.
In the upcoming summer months, as the club learns to deep fry these shellfish treats or winterize their oyster garden, Tremblay hopes the group will have a positive impact on the local environment.
“This kind of environmentalism speaks to me,” he said. “You can see results in my lifetime. If we can act locally and improve water quality in Sag Harbor Cove, then maybe other sub-estuaries will see us as a model.”

Ferry Road Developers Seek Board’s Guidance

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The developers of a controversial waterfront project in Sag Harbor approached the village planning board last week to ask why they should have to answer certain questions about the impact the project may have on water quality and shellfish in Sag Harbor Cove. They also asked for more specifics on how they should develop alternative plans for the proposed 18-unit condominium project.

On Tuesday, November 25, Kim Gennaro, director of planning for Freudenthal and Elkowitz, the firm handling the environmental review for the developers of the luxury condo project known as Ferry Road, approached the board with a list questions.

In a letter to the board, Gennaro brings up four points of contention. Using both baseline and seasonal water quality data that are already available, the board has asked the developers to employ a New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) method of testing to determine if the project may cause any potential contamination to Sag Harbor Cove.

Gennaro said while she does not object to providing the baseline and seasonal water quality results available for the area, she was concerned about the prospect of her client having to perform its own water quality analysis, given this is an area already developed.

Sag Harbor Village environmental planning consultant Richard Warren maintained that the analysis should be completed, noting members of the public specifically asked for it. He added that the village’s Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan (LWRP) backs up this request by the planning board.

“My concern is to make sure the questions that have been asked by the public are responsibly responded to by the applicant,” he said.

The board has also asked East End Ventures to analyze the effect of the construction of 18 proposed accessory boat slips on shellfish habitats in the area.

Gennaro argued that the NYSDEC would perform their own analysis of this project as it related to the docks and wondered if the board would instead accept their findings, rather than make her clients perform their own study.

Warren reminded the board that the NYSDEC would only be able to approve the project after the planning board was done with its own review, and therefore, the board should have its own research to look at.

“The burden is unfortunately on the applicant to get the resources,” noted village attorney Anthony Tohill. He added that East End Ventures must make “an honest, reasonable, and intelligent effort” to produce what the planning board needs to come to their decision. 

Adding that the project is fairly controversial locally, Warren noted “the quality of these responses is going to have to be very high” and that the public will be paying attention to the actions of the developer, as well as the village and its planning board.

Gennaro did score one win, in that the planning board agreed that a study conducted by Dr. David Bernstein, Director of the Institute of Long Island Archaeology on archeological artifacts on the waterfront site was acceptable, as long as it is approved by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.

East End Ventures must also submit alternative plans to the planning board, and last Tuesday, Gennaro said she wanted more specifics on what those alternatives should entail. The board has asked for alternative architectural designs, an alternative layout including the location of the condos on the site, an alternative that reduces the size and the scale of the project and an alternative that reduces the number of grade changes and retaining walls needed for the project.

She added that it was her concern that once the board begins exploring alternatives, it could become a never-ending process.

“We were specifically imprecise,” added Warren, noting that the alternatives should be designed based on the research the applicant does on potential adverse impacts. If an impact can’t be mitigated, he said, it should be the subject of an alternative.

“During the study of the project, only then will we be able to come up with the alternatives because right now we are blind,” said board member Jack Tagliasacchi. “I don’t even have a plan. I don’t know the impacts on anything.”

“The alternative portions of [the environmental review] is going to be of huge importance,” said Tohill. “The meetings have not happened yet, but having 39 years of experience, I can hear the public now and there is going to be a lot of discussion about alternatives.”



Terrapins May Push Colgate Basin Dredging Off

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In July, the Sag Harbor Harbor Committee gave permission to dredge the tiny Colgate basin off Redwood in Sag Harbor Cove. On Monday they began to reconsider that approval when they learned there may be diamondback terrapins living in the cove which hibernate in the soft mud in the cove bottom.

Indigenous to the brackish waters of the mid-Atlantic coast, terrapins are entitled to special regulations through the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation, Redwood resident Cam Gleason told the members of the harbor committee on Monday. According to one document she presented, protection could be afforded the animals and their habitat if a petition by ten or more citizens was filed.

“I could easily get ten people together to petition on behalf of these turtles,” Gleason told the committee.

Gleason’s conversation with a member of the South Fork Natural History Museum in Bridgehampton led her to believe the terrapins go into hibernation sometime in November or December and don’t resurface until April. The permit to dredge, which was granted on behalf of five homeowners on the basin, was limited to the period from October 15 to January 15.

“If you do the math, that doesn’t leave much of a window for them to dredge,” said Gleason.

Committee chairman Bruce Tait said he would speak to Southampton Town Trustee president Jon Semlear to confirm the terrapins’ presence.

“I really don’t want to disturb these little guys,” said Tait.

According to Gleason, there are “hundreds” of the terrapins living in the cove.

There was no action to cancel the dredging permit, pending confirmation from Semlear.

“At this point, I prefer to let sleeping terrapins lie,” said Tait.


Also on Monday the committee addressed an application from the owner of the schooner Mary E who has requested permission to tie up at Long Wharf next summer and operate as a commercial charter boat.

Last year the committee recommended, and the village enacted, legislation restricting long term docking on the wharf, since large boats were clamoring to the dock and ultimately blocking off any view of the water.

“Docking on Long Wharf would defeat the purpose of what we’ve done,” said committee member Jeff Peters.

“Absolutely,” agreed fellow board member Nancy Haynes.

“I think it would be great,” opined committee member George Pharaoh. ”At least you wouldn’t have a mega yacht blocking the view.”

Tait noted that the village’s own Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan actually encourages businesses such as charter boats, but added the business would also need to provide “upland support;” parking, for example.

Currently, the American Beauty, a tour boat that can be chartered, has a berth at Long Wharf each season; but, said Tait, the owner needs to bid for that permit each year.

“We have the American Beauty, but the village has said it doesn’t want to increase commercial activity [on village-owned waterfront],” said Tait.

“Unless they could supply a plan for parking, like parking at some other location, then this committee’s position may be that we are not supporting the application since they have no upland support,” said Tait.

Peters wondered if the boat’s owner would still be interested if they were told they would have to moor off and provide a shuttle to and from the vessel.

With no one representing the applicant at Monday’s meeting, Tait said the committee would send a letter instructing the applicant to attend the December 8 meeting to answer questions.


Also at the meeting Tait and Peters decided they would tour the site of the KeySpan remediation on West Water Street next Tuesday, November 18.