Local Businesses Join Residents in Call for Better Drainage in Sag Harbor

Posted on 12 June 2013


Sag Harbor resident Chris Hegedus at the Sag Harbor Village Board meeting Tuesday night. Hegedus continued to call on the Sag Harbor Village Board to develop a comprehensive drainage plan for the low lying areas of Sag Harbor. 

By Kathryn G. Menu

Residents of Garden, Howard and Spring streets in Sag Harbor continued a call this week for a comprehensive drainage plan to combat the ravages of weather events like Superstorm Sandy on their historic homes.

And local businesses appear to be on their side.

A comprehensive drainage strategy is the root of a petition to the village which has been signed by more than 150 residents and business owners. The petition calls for improvements to the municipal drainage system, a commitment to assess future building projects in terms of drainage impact and calls for a moratorium on all development that requires the installation of an above ground septic system and changes in topography until a village-wide plan is adopted.

But there is one imminent proposal already slated to go forward which neighbors still hope to stall.

In April, the Sag Harbor Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) granted a variance that will ultimately allow William Egan to expand his Garden Street home. FEMA and county regulations require the house on the property be elevated, but it is the raising of the topography on the property — necessary to accommodate a four bedroom expansion and accompanying above ground septic system — that neighbors fear will send even more flood waters into their homes when the next big storm comes a calling.

On Tuesday night, resident Angela Scott presented the board with a new report from Schneider Engineering reviewing drainage plans associated with the Egan proposal, comparing it with the original plans filed in 2005 and 2006.

According to the report, ground elevation is different on a revised drawing as opposed to the original drawing.

“On the newer drawing, the soil boring shows that the groundwater elevation is 1.8 feet,” reads the report, drafted by Steven Schneider. “The existing ground elevation is at 3.5 feet. Suffolk County Department of Health Services requires a 2.0 foot separation from the bottom of the drainage system to the ground water elevation. The separation on the drawing is negative 0.3 feet. Therefore there is insufficient separation between the groundwater and the drainage system that is proposed.”

“The parcel is in a flood zone,” continues Schneider’s analysis. “The water table fluctuates with the tide, thus changing every day. The reliance on a test hole dug years ago is suspect at best and if the water table is higher, then the designed storm water retention system and the septic system will not comply with requirements regarding distance to water table, typically 24 inches.”

“The existing property is the lowest point in the area,” adds Schneider. “Changing the natural flows in the area could result in negative impacts on neighboring residential properties, the local road network and municipal drainage system.”

After Scott read that letter, Mayor Brian Gilbride said that while he has empowered village planning consultant Richard Warren to explore drainage in the village, the Egan application is not before the village board and therefore they cannot intervene.

Scott argued the ZBA was only able to look at one aspect of Egan’s plan — to raise steps to the renovated residence — and was in fact counseled not to consider the project as a whole. Scott said what neighbors want is some village board to address the environmental impact they believe this project could have on a neighborhood plagued with flooding issues.

“No one has looked at this drainage plan with any concern about what the impact could be on the neighbors,” she said. “We are not saying they cannot build, but we would like you to review what their drainage plan is.”

Mayor Gilbride said he would turn the documents over to building inspector Tim Platt for review.

D.A. Pennebaker, another neighbor, passed out petitions to the board, noting there were a number of letters from local businesses supporting the proposal. He suggested the board could also look at extending the village’s wastewater treatment plant services into the neighborhood as a means of alleviating the need for septic systems, improving water quality and drainage. Funding, he added, could be found through state and federal grants.

Trustee Robby Stein agreed this was something that should be explored, but added it is a costly process for each homeowner — having to abandon a septic system and pay to hook up to the village system, which could run in the thousands of dollars.

Even in the last big rain storms, countered Pennebaker, the neighborhood has contended with septic systems that simply refuse to work.

“You can’t flush your toilet,” he said.

Stein said he would like to see the village develop a comprehensive plan.

“When I look at the village budget issues, this is a big area we have to look at,” said Stein.

Apparently, some local businesses agree.

Save Sag Harbor board member and Howard Street resident Mia Grosjean read a letter from veterinarian Dr. Barry Browning , one of 19 local business owners who have signed the petition.

Browning recounted the harrowing events during Superstorm Sandy, which brought little rain but a tidal surge that overwhelmed the bulkhead on West Water Street and for an hour and a half poured about eight million gallons of flood waters into the Long Island Avenue, Bridge Street neighborhood and below into Garden, Howard and Spring streets.

Browning asked the village to develop a plan to reduce rainwater runoff, maintain a better pumping system with frequently cleaned drains and back-up electricity in the event of a power outage like what occurred during Superstorm Sandy. He also asked the village to have a sandbag program in place to increase the height of the West Water Street bulkheads and develop an emergency hotline able to reach village officials during such an event.

Dottie Simons, the president of retail operations for Dodds & Eder on Bridge Street also called for a review of the village drainage system in a letter submitted to the board.

“Operating from Bridge Street, we are in the front row, in the middle of the whole problem,” she wrote. “There is clear indication that it is time to address these issues, and resolve them.”

“We suffered losses in the flooding totaling $80,000,” she continued. “We are a new business in this village that had invested a great deal of effort, money and time in renovating this building to become part of the community and cannot afford to suffer such a loss like that at anytime.”

Mayor Gilbride praised police, fire and ambulance personnel for their response during Sandy and said the tidal surge would not have been aided through the pump system.

“Quite honestly, I am 65 years old and I don’t ever remember water coming over West Water Street to that extent,” he said, adding Superintendent of Public Works Dee Yardley has fixed or replaced much of pump systems regardless. He reiterated that Warren is looking into the village’s drainage system in advance of hurricane season. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has predicted an “extremely active” 2013 hurricane season.

At Scott’s pressing, Mayor Gilbride noted the Egan application in particular will come before the village’s Harbor Committee for review before it can move forward.

Under the Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan’s policy number four, the committee is charged with minimizing loss of life, structures and natural resources from flooding and erosion.

Included under that chapter is a mandate the committee “manage development in flood plains so as to avoid adverse environmental effects, to minimize the need for structural flood protection measures, and to meet federal flood insurance program standards.”

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