‘Give Me Space’ in Three Mile Harbor

    The East Hampton Town Trustees’ plan to condense the 90 moorings set aside for large boats within a broad area in the center of Three Mile Harbor came under fire during the trustees’ monthly meeting Tuesday night.
    Sean McCaffery and Stephanie Forsberg, trustees, and the panel’s clerk, Diane McNally, explained to the dozen or so boaters in attendance that the board was trying to correct a disorderly pattern which boaters had come to accept as normal.
    Trustees said the loose mooring pattern took space away from kayakers, stand-up paddle boarders, and waterskiers, among others, and threatened to bring the State Department of Environmental Conservation down on the harbor’s shellfish beds. “It’s why you are given supplemental forms asking if you plan to stay on your boat overnight,” Ms. McNally told the boaters. She said the board’s plan followed the example of other East End towns and villages, Sag Harbor among them.
    Ms. McNally said the D.E.C. looks upon moored and anchored boats as they do marinas: as potential sources of coliform pollution from marine toilets. The bigger the area in which boats are moored, the bigger the potential for shellfish closures, is the trustees’ reasoning. “You might say, ‘But Three Mile Harbor is a no-discharge zone,’ but the D.E.C. will not take that into account,” she said. “They close areas because they don’t have enough people to test the water.”
    John Courtney, the trustees’ attorney, reminded the disgruntled boaters that the original arrangement for the large-boat mooring area was a tight pattern, in large part because of the shellfish closure issue.
    John Chadnick complained that the town code permits boaters to anchor within the mooring grid. Trustees admitted this should be changed, although a separate, formal anchoring area might draw unwanted attention in regard to shellfishing areas.
    John Sabastoanski, who has kept a boat in Three Mile Harbor for the past 15 years, said his “main concern is the boats are too close together,” an opinion shared by Glenn Bennett, a contractor who installs moorings.
    “On a strong southwest wind, sometimes it takes three passes to get to your mooring,” said Mr. Bennett. “Sag Harbor has accidents. At night, none of the boats are lit if nobody’s on them. People swim off their boats.”
    Most of the boaters who spoke said they found the tight quarters objectionable from a safety as well as a privacy standpoint. 
       Craig Humphrey said the condensed pattern would actually put his boat out of reach: “I row to my boat. I had a check ready for you and I paid for a dinghy slip on a sand spit on the north end of the harbor. It’s two-tenths of a nautical mile. I wouldn’t mind rowing a little farther, but not a mile.”
     Dustin Goodwin said the condensed pattern ruined the “poetry” of Three Mile Harbor. “The harbor is my summer home. I want my ashes spread there. Why do you think boaters come from Connecticut and Rhode Island? Three Mile Harbor is not a parking lot. The grid is too dense. You will lose the poetry.”
    As to the trustees’ contention that the tighter pattern would allow for more boaters in the future, Mark Mendelman, a contractor who sets moorings and who gathered the naysayers for Tuesday’s meeting, suggested that spreading the boats out within the grid also allowed for future growth. “You could fill in rather than expand out.”
    “It’s a bitter pill. Rules and regulations are hard,” Ms. McNally said. “I was at the high school when the trustees first said there should be a mooring field. The people said, ‘Mooring field? It’s our right to put them where we want.’ ” But ever-increasing use of the harbor made the regulations necessary, she said, adding that the trustees are willing to hear from boaters independently to see if their mooring location could be better fitted to their needs.
    All moorings, set on the bottom by independent contractors, must be approved by the trustees, who raised the cost of a resident’s permit this season from $7.50 to $10 per boat-length foot. Nonresidents now pay $20 per boat-length-foot. There is also a $50 inspection fee.
    Ms. Forsberg told the boaters the increased mooring fees were helping the board pay for a $25,000 program to test for coliform bacteria as well as algae blooms in the harbor.