The Mast-Head: Troubled Water

I have watched with growing frustration

   Havens Beach in Sag Harbor was closed by order of the Suffolk County Health Department yesterday and the day before that after heavy rains raised the possibility of bacterial contamination. But you wouldn’t have known this had you stopped by for a swim.
    Once word comes from the county that the beach is to be closed — as happens from time to time — the village has the lifeguard hang up a generic “no swimming” sign, and they leave it at that.
    The general source of the problem is known: an 880-foot-long ditch that wends its way up toward Hempstead Street and its road drainage. But just where the bacteria associated with human waste come from is far from obvious. The ditch eventually crosses the beach, presenting an inviting rill to children who like to splash in its water.
    When I was still the father of just one child, in ignorance, my wife and I allowed our 2-year-old daughter to plop down and play in the ditch. In fact, I only learned of the risk when a man who lives near Havens Beach happened to notice what we were doing and walked over to clue us in.
    Since then I have watched with growing frustration as plans to do something about it — or at least issue honest and explicit warnings — fail to be made by successive crops of local officials.
    For more than a decade now, successive Sag Harbor Village Boards and East Hampton Town officials have fumbled several variations of a remediation project. A few years ago, fences were extended along the ditch, and signs put up noting possible bacterial danger. These are routinely ignored. So far, that’s about it.
    Two years of study by engineers hired by the Village of Sag Harbor have produced a plan to install a system that will capture contaminants before they can cross the bathing beach and reach Northwest Harbor. The project will include the installation of sponges laced with an antimicrobial compound that should kill most of the pathogens.
    I hope the project goes forward, but I’ll believe it when I see it.