Harbor Panel Backs Plan to Fix Havens Beach Runoff Filtering System

Havens Beach filter vault and discharge pipes under the roadway there. The outfall from the filtering chamber is the smaller one at right. The larger pipe at left is for overflow runoff. Peter Boody Photo

Despite skepticism and some downright opposition from two members of the Friends of Havens Beach, the Harbor Committee on Monday agreed that the longstanding village plan to fix the drainage and filtering system for storm water runoff that was installed in 2013 at Havens Beach conforms to the goals of Sag Harbor’s Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan (LWRP).

“We should proceed on this in the short run,” said board member Will Sharp, and go on to consider broader steps that would improve water quality at Havens Beach. But meanwhile, “We can’t stop right now. We’ve got to get going on this right now.”

Two members of the Friends asked the board instead to urge the village board to revive an abandoned plan to restore the creek and the wetlands that once existing just south of Havens Beach, before they were buried under dredge spoil decades ago.

“This is an opportunity to pause on this,” said Joan Butler, and revive the plan for a “meandering stream.”

Helen Roussel, citing the need to prepare for the rising sea levels and heavier rains that climate change will bring, also called on the board to restore the wetlands “and some rain gardens further back in the town.” She said that would be “much more sustainable than a permanent cement pipe.”

After a 90-minute discussion, the committee members agreed that broader improvements are needed to protect Havens Beach water quality and handle the runoff problem there. But they also agreed that fixing the access problem to allow replacement of the disintegrating filtering sponges was an urgent matter.

The committee voted 5-0 to direct its environmental consultant, Charles Voorhis, to advise the Village Board of Trustees before its monthly meeting the next day that it had found the project to be in compliance with the LWRP.

The existing drainage and filtration system began backing up soon after it was installed six years ago, leading to flooding on Hempstead Street. Public Works Department personnel also found the underground filtering chamber hatch too small and its lid too heavy to service the 300 Abtech Smart Sponge biofilters it contains.

The last time they tried was in 2014, when the sponges were successfully cleaned, according to Jenny Lund of the engineering firm P. W. Grosser, who presented a slide show on the proposed fix to the Harbor Committee on Monday. In 2018, an alternative filtration medium, Fabco spiral inserts, were placed in the last 10 feet of the 15-inch outfall pipe. They were cleaned this month and will remain part of the upgraded system.

The sponges, which measure one-by-one foot and three inches thick, are stacked three high and five across inside the underground filter chamber, she explained. They are supposed to be rotated row by row from front to back periodically, with the rear, downstream sponges to be disposed of periodically as hazardous waste saturated with petrochemicals.

At $200 each, the sponges should be costing the village $3,000 to $5,000 a year as it removes 15 to 20 annually from the last row.

Ms. Lund said they have a life of seven years and may now be disintegrating.

The fix, in the works for about five years, calls for laying a 24-inch “emergency overflow” pipe from below the Hempstead Street catch basin to the south end of the ditch that runs northward across the Havens Beach upland to the filtering chamber, which is under the roadway just south of the beach. It will run parallel to the existing 15-inch pipe and take on the excess volume that now backs up and leads to flooding whenever the rainfall rate reaches 5.2 inches in 24 hours.

The plan also calls for replacing the existing filter chamber slab and access cover and managing the phragmites that are clogging the draining ditch. “The goal is to provide easier access to provide appropriate maintenance,” Ms. Lund said.

“The pipe reduces flooding. The phragmites [management] and new filter” that will be installed “reduces pollution. One goes with the other,” Ms. Lund said.

Ms. Lund said the $125,000 project still needs DEC approval. Funding is also not yet set.

Kevin McAllister of the group Defend H2O told the committee that high coliform bacteria counts still occur at Havens Beach, in part because of the failing biofilter sponges. He urged the committee to back the plan as a necessary short-term repair, but he also urged it to consider broader solutions to the pollution and runoff problem.

He referred in particular to a proposal he aired in 2007. It was drafted by Cashin Associates about 15 years ago, he said, and partly funded by the state. It called for restoring the entire wetlands marsh system and meandering creek that existed where the drainage ditch and so-called dog park are now located. Marshes absorb excess water flows and their vegetation provides filtering.

“This was really teed up, this project,” he said, but “reluctance by neighbors,” what he called “fear of the unknown,” and the village’s failure to come up with matching funds killed the plan. Instead, the village “went back to improving the drainage ditch,” Mr. McAllister said.

Department of Public Works Superintendent Dee Yardley said in a phone interview on Tuesday that the system isn’t perfect but that the runoff and pollution situation is “better than before” it was installed.

“In the nine years I’ve been in charge,” he added, the county has never red-flagged the beach” as unsafe. Whenever it rains over one inch, he said, the county closes “all the beaches” as a routine measure.

“Long Beach has failed multiple times” to meet safe bacteria levels, he said, while Havens Beach never has. “I’m not going to say there haven’t been high coliform counts after a rain,” he added.