Dredging’s Shadow Darkens Happy Images of Havens Beach

Ann Hansen and Terry Sullivan at the "field trip" to Havens Beach on Sunday at the library. Peter Boody photo

The dumping of gritty spoil full of rocks, iron, coal and artifacts on Havens Beach in November of 2017, from a large dredge field west of Long Wharf cast a dark shadow over an otherwise cheery “Field Trip to Havens Beach” slide show that Carol Williams, Jean Held and Terry Sullivan of the Friends of Havens Beach presented Sunday to a packed house of about 60 people at the John Jermain Library.

The session was billed as a “field trip” in place of an actual walk on the village-owned bathing beach with members of the Village Board. None attended Sunday’s meeting.

The dredging dug into the site of the village’s original 18th century wharf, just west of today’s Long Wharf, according to Ms. Held, who explained it had been built using a technique employed since Roman times: building “Lincoln Log” cribs in the water and filling them with rocks and rubble to create a foundation. As the cribs disintegrated over time, and the old wharf was abandoned for a new structure in the 19th century, they spewed their contents onto the bay bottom.

Because the spoil from the 2017 dredging operation was pumped onto Havens Beach —  and labeled “clean sand and some variable larger material” by the Suffolk County Department of Public Works, which oversaw the work — a lot of that rubble was sucked up and deposited on the village’s only public bathing facility, Ms. Held theorized.

Other sources of debris found at Havens Beach since 2017 include pieces of coal that Ms. Held said may have come from piles that were kept on and near Long Wharf for Long Island Rail Road locomotives and for steamboats that used to dock there. Jug shards, bottle glass, clay pipes, nails, screws, spikes embedded in corroded iron and a fork engraved with the emblem of the E. W. Bliss torpedo company, which once has a building on Long Wharf, have also been found among the industrial debris, according to Ms. Held, who showed slides and brought examples of them all.

Jean Held shows a corroded iron piece with protruding spike that was found on Havens Beach after the 2017 Long Wharf dredging project. Peter Boody photo

The show also featured historical photos, sketches and charming Annie Cooper Boyd paintings, highlighting the beach’s original appearance and its popularity for bathing even before real estate entrepreneur Frank Havens bought it in 1899. His widow, Lila, gave the beach and the adjacent upland to the village in 1924. The Havens’ former summer house is now the Cormaria Catholic retreat house just west of the beach property.

But throughout Sunday’s program. the dredging project was the recurring theme. Showing a slide of dark dredge spoil splashing from the end of a pipe onto a moonscape of gray material, Mr. Sullivan asked the audience to remember the formerly clean yellow beach sand that used to be found at Havens Beach, the village’s only bathing facility, the kind of sand that he said can still be found beginning about 100 yards to the east.

Compare that “with the black sludge you see spewing from the pipe in many of our pictures and the dangerous detritus gleaned by volunteers who tirelessly combed the beach in the worst of weather,” he said.

Mr. Sullivan asked Ann Hansen, a former village Planning Board member who lives adjacent to the Havens Beach property, to give the audience her thoughts.

“I live at the entrance to the beach and I can’t begin to say what’s going on down at Havens Beach,” she said. “All that dredging material on the beach: Was anybody there watching what was going on? I really don’t think there was. If they were watching, they weren’t saying anything. I just hope there’s no more destruction down there.”

As he has charged in writing to the Village Board of Trustees and at the November meeting of the board, Mr. Sullivan alleged the dredge work conducted by the county’s contractor failed to comply with the permit that the state DEC issued for the work.

He displayed an aerial photo showing the extent of the dredged area, a 500-by-330-foot rectangle, and noted that the state permit authorized — and the village officially requested — only the dredging of the navigational channel, which he said runs from the Jordan C. Haerter Veterans Memorial Bridge to the breakwater.

When he pressed the county on the issue, a Department of Public Works official wrote him that the dredging “achieved numerous benefits for the village, including significantly enhancing the mooring basin, restoring a significantly deteriorated and eroded recreational resource and providing infrastructure projection for Havens Beach village park,” he said.

“Has anybody had the impression the beach was deteriorating before 2017?” Mr. Sullivan asked. No one responded.

“The DEC permit for the job states specifically it was for dredging a navigational channel, not a mooring basin for more yachts,” he said. When he asked a village official how many yachts it would fit, the official — whom he later identified as Trustee James Larocca — “facetiously said, yeah, 13,” Mr. Sullivan said.

“Your guess is as good as mine,” he added, “as to what it means” when the county official “refers to ‘providing infrastructure projection’ for the beach. Any infrastructure means roads and bulldozers. That’s an open question, what that means.”

Asked by an audience member if a screen should not have been attached to the dredge pipe to keep larger objects from reaching the beach, Mr. Sullivan said the state permit called for a “diffuser” that would have separated sand from rubble. When Village Public Works Superintendent Dee Yardley asked the dredge contractor about that, Mr. Sullivan said, “They said, ‘We do it differently. We just shoot it against a bulldozer. It’s fine. We don’t worry about it.’”

Mr. Yardley, reached for comment, said he had no role to play in the dredge work. “It was a county job and they oversaw the whole project,” he said.

Mr. Larocca, who was traveling last week, said on Wednesday he had not been the Village Board’s liaison for the dredging project and had only been joking about “how misinformation gets conveyed in the village” when he made the quip about yachts at Long Wharf.

“There has never been a plan for a wholesale increase in dockage on the west side of Long Wharf,” he said.