Havens: Still a Risk

The matter now rests with Sag Harbor officials

   Another summer season has just about come and gone and nothing has been done to stop potentially harmful bacteria from floating through Havens Beach in Sag Harbor.
    The problem comes from septic waste and road runoff that reaches a narrow creek or ditch that crosses the beach and empties into Northwest Harbor, part of the federally protected Peconic Bay Estuary. The Suffolk Health Department orders the beach closed for swimming after heavy rains — as it did on Friday. As we have been told before, no warnings were posted, and the beach reopened early Sunday with equally minimal fanfare.
    This is far from breaking news; contamination at Havens Beach has been known to authorities for well more than a decade. Efforts to do something about it date to 2007. In March 2011, a study presented to the Village of Sag Harbor by a consulting firm recommended that wetlands there be restored and an expensive “biofiltration” system with oversize artificial sponges be put in. Both would help trap contaminants. Apparently the work is hung up while the village responds to the flaws identified in the proposal by the State Department of Environmental Conservation.
    Top among the requirements the state said must be resolved before permits can be issued is reducing the amount of stormwater runoff that reaches the ditch in the first place. This would reduce contaminant levels and cut the rate at which the costly artificial sponges would have to be replaced, thereby increasing the system’s useful life. Getting stormwater into the ground before it is channeled into the ditch would be preferable, the state told Sag Harbor officials in the spring. The bottom line, as far as the D.E.C. is concerned, is that the village commit, in writing, to maintaining the entire drainage system.
    It took until July for the village to respond. It conceded the “necessity of installing additional leaching basins in the Havens Beach watershed,” but it told the D.E.C. that doing so was beyond the scope of the project it previously had been asked to develop and that, in any event, it didn’t have the money.
    c, who must assure the state that they have the intention — and the money — to keep the water clean. In the meantime, the village owes it to residents and visitors alike to do a better job of alerting beachgoers to the risk of swimming there after heavy rains. If history is any guide, a long-term solution may be years away.