It is good news indeed that the Village of Sag Harbor appears to be moving forward with a project to reduce the amount of polluted run-off that crosses Havens Beach and flows into the bay. A short creek there, more of a drainage ditch, has for years carried water from surrounding upland properties and several roadside sumps. The public bathing beach there has been closed pre-emptively by the Suffolk Department of Health after heavy rainfalls, and shellfishing nearby is banned year round.
For more than a decade, the only warning that something was amiss came from neighbors who would wander over to warn parents when they spotted children splashing in the polluted water. Now, a split-rail fence more or less encircles the creek, with notable, if ambiguously worded warnings put up by the village.
Though environmentalists have for years been concerned about the water quality at Havens Beach, it was not until 2010, after human fecal coliform and other bacterial traces were found, that village officials got serious about correcting the situation. In fact, back in 2007, a demand by the Peconic Baykeeper organization resulted in angry pushback from village officials. Now, after as many as 15 years since the problems were first identified, work may begin soon on a two-pronged response that would reduce the amount of contamination.
As envisioned, rebuilding the wetland there and installing a relatively new commercial filtration system should make a marked difference. Work may begin sometime this year once the proper permits are secured. Those involved inside and outside of village government are optimistic about the prospects and an end to the occasional closing of the swimming beach.
The installation of a filter and a restored wetland cannot be the end, however, of the village’s commitment — and that of other towns — to protecting the bays and harbors. In the aggregate, the amount of contamination that leaks from outdated cesspools into marine ecosystems on the South Fork probably dwarfs the Havens Beach creek source by several orders of magnitude.
From time to time, officials have talked about offering homeowners incentives to make septic-system improvements. As the Havens Beach work gets under way, it might be a good moment to revisit a regional approach to improving the health of all the area’s waterways.