Grant Denial Stalls Plan To Renovate Long Wharf

A rendering of proposed plans to improve Long Wharf. Courtesy of Edmund Hollander Landscape Architects

Following the rejection of Sag Harbor’s application for about $2.5-million in state waterfront revitalization funds, the village’s approximately $3-million, long-discussed plan to restore and renovate Long Wharf is on hold while the Village Board ponders how to pay for it.

Village Trustee Aiden Corish broke the news of the grant rejection in a brief report on his areas of responsibility – the new playground at Mashashimuet Park; the Long Wharf grant application; and the village’s sewage treatment plant — near the end of the monthly Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees meeting on January 8.

After noting that the village had obtained a $550,000 state waterfront revitalization grant for the project in 2017, he announced that “we were not successful” in a subsequent application filed in 2018. After reading from the state’s pro forma rejection letter, he said, “We intend to apply again” during the state’s 2019 grant cycle.

Originally built in the 18th century, Long Wharf was previously owned by Suffolk County, which completely renovated it about 30 years ago and rehabilitated its bulkhead in 2007. The county gave the wharf to the Village of Sag Harbor in 2012, with the village to be responsible for all costs.

There was no other comment on the topic on January 8 until audience member Nada Barry, proprietor of The Wharf Shop, asked during the “public comments” portion of the meeting if the grant rejection would hold up the project.

Mayor Sandra Schroeder and Mr. Corish both replied that the village “would be seeking other sources of funding,” as Mr. Corish put it. “As to what the immediate consequences” are, “we haven’t really worked that out,” he said.

“So,” Ms. Barry said, “you don’t know what’s going to happen this summer, when you thought it was going to be closed down” for the work.

“This summer it won’t be closed, no,” the mayor replied.

Village officials first said at public meetings in 2017 they expected the work to begin the following year; they also told Bay Street Theater and the Sag Harbor Partnership that the summer of 2018 would be the last one during which they could hold their galas on the wharf because of the renovation project.

But Paul Boyce, an engineer with P.W. Grosser Consulting, the village’s engineer for the job, told the Village Board at a meeting on the project three months ago — in October of 2018 — “We’re hoping to get this under way after Labor Day of 2019.”

Dee Yardley, the village’s public works superintendent, confirmed this week that Long Wharf “was going to stay open anyhow this year,” meaning through 2019, because funding had not been finalized for the renovation work.

Although the wharf is in need of “significant renewal,” as Mayor Schroeder wrote in an October 5, 2018 letter to Governor Cuomo in support of the now-rejected grant application, Mr. Yardley said this week there were no critical problems that needed to be addressed quickly.

“We’re good for another 20 years,” he said. “We do have a couple of breaches where the steel has rotted away,” he added, but steel sheathing and the “surface rust” that pedestrians see, are “a visual thing.”

In a phone interview this week, Mr. Corish said he did not want to comment on a possible timetable for the project “until we have funding to finish it.”

“We really hoped we’d be successful this year but we weren’t,” he said of the grant application. Of what happens now, he said, “We have not sat down and discussed it yet.”

Mayor Schroeder, in an interview on Wednesday, acknowledged the grant rejection was a major blow. She said the village had been encouraged to apply “through channels” and by their grant writer and had expected a favorable decision.

In its grant application, the village proposed providing a “matching grant” of $732,125. As for funding more the of the project with a bond issue, Mr. Corish said this week, “As a last resort, we might consider bonding but we want to avoid that burden on the taxpayer.”

He said paying off a $2.5-million bond issue “is not feasible in a village with an $11-million budget.”

Also reached for comment, Trustee James Larocca said that, depending on the outcome of future grant applications, “We are examining bonding devices in the alternative.” He deferred further comment to Mayor Schroeder. When asked on Wednesday if the village would consider a bond issue to get the project done, she said, “We’re going to have to.”

At a Village Board work session a year ago, at which the project’s pricetag was put at $3.8 million (not the $2.928 million listed in the village’s grant paperwork), then-Trustee Robbie Stein said the village was hopeful it would receive an additional $250,000 in county grants for the work.

By then, the village had been awarded one grant, a 2017 Empire State Economic Development Grant totaling $550,000, for the creation of the renovation’s proposed pedestrian walkway, lighting and bulkhead replacement. Mr. Larocca said this week that money, which will be awarded only after the project is completed, remains available.

A $3-million bond issue to complete the project would cost a homeowner with property assessed at $795,000 an additional $61.22 in village taxes annually over 20 years, Mayor Schroeder said during the work session a year ago. Both then-Trustee Stein and Trustee Ken O’Donnell noted at the meeting that additional yacht slips planned for the wharf would provide new revenue that the village could use to offset the impact of a bond on taxpayers.

When the village took title to the wharf in early 2013, Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., who was the village attorney at the time, said that the village planned to transfer money every year to a reserve fund to pay for long-term capital expenses for the wharf “so it won’t be necessary to borrow money” to keep it maintained. Mr. Thiele left his village post in April 2016.

This week, he said in an interview, “I’m certainly willing to help them secure a grant to mitigate any impact” of the project’s cost. But “they should be looking at the state as, at best, a 50-50 partner. There’s a lot of competition for those grants. I think there’s a possibility of more state help in the future,” but there’s a need “to sit down with myself and maybe Senator [Kenneth P.] LaValle. We need to plot out a strategy.”