Harbor Committee Asks Village to Restore Proposal to Require Boat Registrations in Outer Harbor

John Parker, representing the Harbor Committee, asks the Village Board to restore a requirement for boat registrations to the proposed rules for the “outer management area” of the harbor beyond the breakwater. Peter Boody photo

Should commercial vessels and boats over 55 feet be required to register with the harbor master before mooring or anchoring in Sag Harbor’s proposed “outer management area” beyond the breakwater?

That was one several hot topics Tuesday when the multi-year effort to revise Sag Harbor’s waterways code to set the rules for mooring, anchoring and other boating activity outside the breakwater continued before the Village Board and a packed audience at its monthly meeting Tuesday.

Water pollution, and high levels of coliform bacteria at Havens Beach after last month’s heavy rains, were also hot topics during the wide-ranging public discussion, with one speaker pointing out that it can’t be boaters illegally discharging their holding tanks that boosted the bacteria count last month because it’s too early in the season for that. Renee Simons of Sag Harbor Hills said the culprit is waste that dog walkers leave behind after their visits to the open field beside Havens Beach and its drainage dreen.

Others pointed out that the natural bowl formed by the terrain directs runoff by gravity — including seepage from old septic systems and street waste — straight to the dreen, making Havens Beach a natural receptacle for bacterial pollution.

That makes the area a prime candidate for the eventual expansion of the village’s sewer district.

At the village’s request, the state in 2016 expanded the village’s area of jurisdiction from 1,500 feet offshore to the area beyond the breakwater so that it could regulate the increasing boating and seaplane activity there. The Harbor Committee has been working ever since to draft the rules, which are up to the Village Board to enact.

The committee favors the boat registration requirement and included it in the code proposal it presented to the Village Board early this year. But the provision was deleted after Trustee Ken O’Donnell in January said it was “over-legislating” and HarborMaster Bob Bori said it was unnecessary. It was still missing from the version that the Village Board presented for a public hearing Tuesday.

Saying the absence of the requirement “leaves a big hole,” Harbor Committee member John Parker — speaking on behalf of the committee — formally asked the Village Board at the hearing to restore the registration requirement. “We’re not sure of the circumstances behind the changes,” he said.

The requirement was also backed by speakers including Rick Drew of the East Hampton Town Board of Trustees, which had to sign off on the Harbor Committee’s code proposal because the Trustees control waters in the outer management area that lie in East Hampton Town.

No Village Board members responded to Mr. Parker’s request and the board took no action on the waterways proposal Tuesday, voting to hold the hearing open.

Former chair of the Harbor Committee Bruce Tait opposed the registration requirement, drawing applause for his stand. “I’m concerned about this whole registration thing: when you visit Sag Harbor, you have to show your papers.” He said it wasn’t required in any other harbor in the region.

“I have seen in Sag Harbor, in this room, an amazing ability to twist logic,” commented Michael S. Williams, president of the Azurest Homeowners Association. A supporter of the registration requirement, he added, “Don’t be such an advocate that you lose a sense of reason.”

Some of the crowd was there because of another provision of the Village Board’s version of the proposal, which they feared would allow all vessels, including large boats, to anchor indefinitely in a proposed recreational “fairway” from 500 to 1,500 feet off Havens and the adjoining beaches of Azurest, Sag Harbor Hills and Ninevah. Current regulations prohibit overnight anchoring in Sag Harbor, according to Mr. Parker.

“So that was a misunderstanding?” Carol Williams of the Friends of Havens Beach asked.

“A very big one, yes,” replied Mayor Sandra Schroeder, going on to explain that no mooring would be allowed in the area at all and anchoring only temporarily so vessels can be sheltered during storms. Mr. Parker also explained that short-term anchoring for recreational activities would also be allowed.