If the East Hampton Town Trustees have their way, advertisements for this summer’s Great Bonac Fireworks Show over Three Mile Harbor will include an explanation as to why the harbor will be closed to shellfishing in the days following the event.
A discussion at the trustees’ meeting on Tuesday night laid bare their frustration with the State Department of Environmental Conservation, which typically closes the harbor for approximately one week based on the assumption that the boats gathered in the harbor during the display, which can number as many as 200, will result in unsafe levels of fecal coliform bacteria.
The trustees, in cooperation with Christopher Gobler of Stony Brook University, have been monitoring the waterways under their jurisdiction since last year. The harbor is a no-discharge zone, and a trustee-operated pumpout boat is stationed in the harbor.
“The facts bear out that they’re not polluting,” Bill Taylor, a trustee and the town’s waterways management supervisor, said of the boats that gather in the harbor for the fireworks display, scheduled for Aug. 2. “It’s a no-discharge zone, there shouldn’t be any pollution.”
“Then why does the D.E.C. close it?” Deborah Klughers, a trustee, asked.
“Because of the possibility of pollution,” Mr. Taylor said.
“Exactly,” Ms. Klughers replied, underscoring the trustees’ frustration. The D.E.C.’s closure of the harbor, said Diane McNally, the trustees’ clerk, is a function of the agency’s scarcity of personnel and other resources, and not based on current data.
The harbor is not being polluted as a consequence of the many boats in it for the fireworks display, Mr. Taylor said. Rather, he said, D.E.C. officials’ thinking is that “if there’s more than one boat every acre, if one person flushes the toilet, you could pollute that one acre.”
“But the question is, is there enough public benefit for the fireworks display to warrant the closing of the harbor for a potential issue?” Ms. McNally asked. “Are our constituents more likely to appreciate the fireworks and the closure of the harbor, versus relocating or eliminating the fireworks and having the waterway open?”
Ms. Klughers asked how the trustees could compel the D.E.C. to use “sound science” — a notion that drew derisive laughter from her colleagues — to keep the harbor open if it is not in fact polluted. “If we’re closing it to shellfishing to the public, they lose,” she said. “And perhaps they shouldn’t lose.”
“And although it is based on the potential, it’s the implication that the use of our waterway by the boaters is detrimental,” Ms. McNally said. “That’s not good to anybody. The boats really are not causing that much trouble.” Upland septic systems, she said, are the real culprits in contamination. “We’re doing everything we can, and this one entity that has so much power still has no staff, no funding, no resources,” she said. “That’s our conundrum. That drives us nuts.”
Stephanie Forsberg, a trustee, recommended reiterating to the public that “this board is very vested in that harbor,” citing its water quality monitoring and scallop seeding projects. It is essential, she said, that the public understands that “so far, all the data is showing that, as far as this one event, there isn’t a detrimental impact. . . . If we felt there was this huge, negative impact, we would be stopping it.”
Mr. Miller suggested that the applicant, the Clamshell Foundation, which must get a permit from the trustees to hold the fireworks show, include in its advertising an explanation as to why the one-night event will close the harbor to shellfishing for the following seven or eight days. “Put it in the D.E.C.’s hands, not ours,” he said. His colleagues agreed.
Ms. McNally said that the trustees should emphasize to the public that “we support their use of the waterway. Boating is great, shellfish seeding is great. It’s just [because of] this D.E.C. protocol . . . that this is the way it is.”