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Sag Harbor Aims to Stop Underwater Land Rush

Thu, 03/28/2024 - 09:12

In vote to limit moorings, one operator fears he’s being ‘railroaded’

Until this year, the Sag Harbor Village Board had not set a limit on the number of moorings allowed in the outer limits of its jurisdiction.
Michael Henry

Fearing an underwater land rush, the Sag Harbor Village Board called a special meeting Monday night and voted unanimously to limit the number of moorings allowed in the outermost area of its jurisdiction to 67, the same number that were in that mooring field in 2023.

The idea to quickly vote on the matter was raised by John Parker, a member of the village’s harbor committee, at a village board meeting earlier this month. Nelson Pope Voorhis, the village’s environmental consultant and Robert Bori, the village harbormaster, had previously recommended 85.

There has never been a limit, although the village board has had the authority to set one for years. So no code change was required. Mr. Bori, not the village board, has the sole discretion to allocate the moorings to boat owners or to one of the four commercial mooring operators recognized by the village.

Three members of the public called in to applaud the resolution. However, Jim Scheel, manager of the Sag Harbor Yacht Yard, one of the commercial operators, said the village’s numbers didn’t accurately reflect the activity in what it calls the outer management area, 1,500 feet from shore and beyond. Last year he said the yacht yard serviced 22 moorings, but a question posed to him by Mr. Bori misled him into saying he had just five.

“Five is the total number of moorings I currently have outside the sea wall on winter stakes, not the total number of moorings we have. Five is what’s out there right now, it’s not what I pulled this season. The mooring count should be 83 or 84, not 67.”

At the mooring workshop held on March 12, it appeared the yacht yard was seeking to increase the number of its moorings from five to 32, which would be by far the largest increase of any of the four recognized mooring contractors who operate in waters under village jurisdiction. “We were asking for 32. That was us asking for 10 more, not jumping from five to 32,” Mr. Scheel said.

“It’s my first year here,” said Mr. Scheel. “Love the town, the village is awesome. This has been fun. Our mooring boat sank, and it sank with me on board, that was a fun trip. We are investing in the future of this village, this waterfront community. Now I have 240k into a brand-new mooring boat and I just shelled out over $70,000 in Dor-Mors to put into your outer mooring field. So, I have 70k into equipment and I’m concerned the numbers are so wrong that we’re going to get kind of railroaded here into just five.”

“We need to verify with the harbormaster about how the moorings were accounted,” said Ed Haye, a village trustee. “Our intent is not to increase the count. We have two sets of facts we need to reconcile. We can pass this resolution tonight. If it’s wrong, we can adjust.”

Mayor Thomas Gardella was frustrated that none of the harbormasters were present to help clarify the situation. “I wish one of the harbormasters was here. I want that to be noted in the record that they’re not here.”

“The initial goal of this proposal was to establish a limit on the number of vessels permitted in the outer management area and to organize the layout using GPS locations,” said Jeanne Kane, a village trustee and liaison to the harbor committee. “We did so taking into account the size of vessels while being sensitive to the location of eelgrass beds to promote and preserve water quality.” She said, however, that with all the input received at the mooring workshop, it became clear the board didn’t have time to adequately analyze the situation.

“It’s a complex balancing act,” she said. “To recommend the proper changes to the code, we need more time to do homework and gather information. Code changes will be ready for the 2025 boating season, not for this season.”

One important change to come out of the workshop and that will be implemented for the 2024 season will be a pilot program in which the harbormasters will introduce and distribute orange ties that are numbered and labeled to seal a boat’s “Y-valve” while they’re in the harbor. The Y-valve directs waste from a boat’s sanitary system to either its holding tank or overboard. Opening it is the equivalent of flushing a toilet into the harbor.

The harbormasters will instruct the boat owner that the Peconic Estuary, which encompasses all of Sag Harbor, is entirely a “no-dump area” and educate them about the dumping policies. Inspections will be increased. “We hope this will help us to better identify what sources are really impacting our water quality. After we gather all this information, we will share all our findings and come up with a recommendation in a future workshop before finalizing any changes to the code,” said Ms. Kane.

“I want everybody to appreciate that having these color-coded ties for the Y-valves is an enormous step forward,” said Aidan Corish, a village trustee.

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