Havens Beach Problems Pile Up

Runoff, dredge spoils, and dog droppings lead to a new call for action

Havens Beach, the only beach in Sag Harbor Village, has drawn increasing concern from residents who have formed an advocacy group to prod officials to improve its condition. The beach, which faces Sag Harbor Bay, is popular with families and children who swim there, and it is one of the few public places where dogs frequently are walked.

“There’s a tendency to take open spaces for granted in this village,” said Carol Williams, one of the founders of Friends of Havens Beach who has been asking the village to protect the beach for at least a year. Ms. William lists numerous problems at the beach, in particular the proliferation of dog feces and potentially polluted runoff from snow dumped there. “But the major issue is the dredging,” she said. 

In November last year, an estimated 10,000 cubic yards of sand were pumped from the bottom of the harbor onto the beach. The spoils left the beach strewn with everything from rusty nails and rebar to musket balls, sea glass, and vast quantities of large rocks.

“There isn’t a blanket thick enough that you could lie down on and not feel those rocks,” said Terry Sullivan, another group member, who said the dredging, authorized by Suffolk County, had not been properly supervised. 

The village has combed, or sifted, the beach in an attempt to remove rocks and debris, but Jean Held, a trustee of the Sag Harbor Historical Society, said at a village board meeting on Nov. 13 that more remediation was needed. “Unfortunately, many of the rocks and other material have risen to the top,” she said. 

 In referring to runoff from the snow the Highway Department dumps there, Ms. Williams said, “You watch the snow melt and go into the bay; there really should be a silt fence around it, but there is no silt fence.” 

The Friends of Havens Beach would like the village to appoint someone to help Dee Yardley, the  superintendent of public works, monitor the beach. “The highway superintendent is basically in charge of the beach, and he knows about highways, that’s his skill set,” Ms. Williams said. “If I were him, I wouldn’t know what to do either.” Mr. Sullivan agreed that assistance was required. “Dee Yardley has more responsibility than one man can handle,” he said. 

In an effort to address a different environmental concern, a law that would require upgraded septic systems was introduced on Nov. 13 and scheduled for public hearing on Jan. 8. 

The board did not discuss the proposal, but Mayor Sandra Schroeder said proposed legislation would be passed on to the harbor committee, which oversees wetlands, for review.

The law states that research done by Suffolk County shows that “nitrogen pollution from conventional on-site sanitary systems is excessive, widespread . . . and adversely affects ecological health and drinking water standards.” The County Department of Health Services has given provisional approval to the use of five advanced, low-nitrogen systems.

 The draft requires the installation of such systems for all new residences and for existing buildings that expand their gross floor area by 25 percent. It does not distinguish between residential and commercial structures. 

The law also states that any buildings with septic systems that have been deemed by the county to be in need of “substantial upgrade” would be required to install an advanced system. “Substantial” is defined as any change that equals or exceeds 50 percent of the cost of the new system. The Harbor Committee would also be able to require upgrades. 

To monitor compliance, the law would give the village building inspector the power to require reports on the performance and maintenance of systems. The penalty for violations would be a fine of not less than $1,000, in addition to making the premises compliant with county standards.