Letters September 25


Assessing Liability


Dear Bryan,

In reference to your editorial dated September 18th regarding the “100 year old oak” I offer the following:  No can argue the merits and benefits that the Sag Harbor Tree Fund has and will continue to provide to the Village of Sag Harbor. Their commitment over the last ten years has been a successful example of community development and resourcefulness that we can all learn from.

The scenario with the “Jermain Avenue Oak” is an example of what we as village officials face on a consistent basis. As mayor, I have a responsibility to all village residents and taxpayers to assess each situation that arises and to address it with an educated solution that is based on reality and facts without the prejudice of perception and emotion. These decisions are based on factors such as risk management and fiscal responsibility, which require me to assess and evaluate each situation to eliminate or limit the potential adverse impacts on the community in terms of physical, financial or human resources. Several of these decisions are complicated and many of them will not follow the popular view; however, they are made with the best interests of the village and its taxpayers in mind.

In this case, it was determined that this tree which has grown into the road by several feet has caused a significant safety concern which is clearly evidenced by the seriousness of the two accidents that have occurred over the past six months. This safety concern coupled with the potential of unlimited liability to the village due to the issuance of a “notice of defect” which officially puts the village on notice that a condition exists which puts the public at risk, along with the opinion from a certified arborist which states that the “tree is in a state of decay and causes a hazard to the street and adjacent sidewalk” led us to our informed decision to remove the tree. In my opinion, a planning or engineering study to recommend alternatives for removal of the tree would be fiscally irresponsible and would only delay the inevitable.

I have instructed James R. Early, Superintendent of Public Works, to meet with members of the Sag Harbor Tree Fund to determine the appropriate replacement for the black oak. In addition, we will salvage what we can of the “old oak” and offer the wood to the elderly and other members of the community who are in need who may use the wood to defray the cost of heating their homes this winter.

Gregory N. Ferraris,


Sag Harbor


Next Time, Another Tree


Dear Editor,

I read with some alarm the article on the 100-year-old black oak that the Village may fell in order to protect motorists on Jermain Ave. Although I applaud any interest in traffic safety, this measure seems an odd response to what will surely remain a continuing problem on this street. As a throughway between 114 and Main Street, Jermain is one of those overly-busy streets that people tend to rush through in spite of the fact that it is a street used by schoolchildren, people enjoying Otter Pond, and the wild inhabitants of Otter Pond, all of which would benefit from slower traffic.

Surely something can be done to protect this tree, and the drivers along this route, together. The person who last hit this tree must have been going at quite a clip to have flipped over and end up facing the opposite direction. Perhaps the road itself should be widened slightly to accommodate a bump-out; perhaps a speed bump installed. Better signage. But if there is nothing done to reduce speeds on this stretch in general, it will just be the next tree that’s struck instead.

Yours respectfully,

April Gornik

North Haven


Spare the Tree. Stop the Speeders.


Dear Editor:

Sag Harbor Village has proposed cutting down a blameless tree because it fears a lawsuit from a speeding driver. This is a preposterous response to the real issue of speeding on Jermain.

We happened to be driving on Jermain the morning of the cited accident, when a speeding luxury vehicle lost control and hit that tree. If the driver had been going anywhere near the speed limit of 25 mph, the tree would have posed no danger. Three times this summer, I have been passed on Jermain, across the double lines. And I admit it: I typically drive at 30 mph there. These cars were pushing 50 or more.

My kids and I bike to school from Joels Lane. I insist they use the sidewalk there since Jermain terrifies me. It is almost impossible to cross.

For years, many have clamored for traffic calming measures along Jermain. A group of us recently built on the work of the consulting firm Louis Berger to put together an application for the Safe Routes to School Program. Jermain was the centerpiece of these efforts, since it is the key thoroughfare between the schools and both Mashashimuet Park and Noyac.

Most Sag Harbor parents would like to let their children walk or bike to school, but they fear the speeding traffic. Safe Routes to School was a nationally funded effort to regain childhood walking and biking. In Sag Harbor, this has plummeted from over 95% of kids walking and biking in the 60s to fewer than 3% today, with all the negative consequences.

We have all learned that posting a sign does not a speed limit make. Instead, a road must “feel” slow, with the “friction” – bulb outs, trees, parked cars, bike lanes – that compel cars to take their time. If we want to regain Jermain as a village street, which it legally is (i.e. not qualified for federal support, as 114 and the Turnpike are), and not a thoroughfare, which it has become, then we must re-engineer it as such.

As many of you know, the village lost the opportunity to compete for half-a-million dollars of free money to put into effect many of these good ideas. Even though it was widely agreed that the Sag Harbor team had done more work than anyone in the state, we did not even put forth a proposal since neither the Village nor Southampton Town felt willing or able to act as sponsor. A municipal sponsor was a requirement.

The far less prepared Southampton Village, ironically, did submit a proposal and won a grant.

The village claims it fears a lawsuit. I would like to turn that on its head: The traffic calming experts will tell you that cutting down that tree will only serve to raise speeds on Jermain, since it will lower “friction.” Given the overwhelming evidence on traffic calming already given to the village, wouldn’t we be risking a huge lawsuit if, heaven forbid, a child were to be hit by a car there? It would be very easy to argue that the village has crossed into negligence by ignoring so many years of pleas and good advice, and in fact acting in the opposite direction – to abet speeding cars.

The Sag Harbor Express quotes “Village Officials” as having declared that Jermain is too narrow for a bulb out. Nonsense! Let’s see their measurements. If Jermain is “too narrow” at the cemetery, how do you explain how cars can maneuver the much narrower width past Suffolk Street?

The real problem is that Jermain is far too wide from the Turnpike to Suffolk. Moreover, in the 1940’s, the perpendicular turn at Suffolk was turned into a gentle curve, further amplifying the speedway effect.

Mayor Ferraris has proved a solid supporter of the Safe Route to School ideas, joining us for many of our efforts and pushing for the new sidewalk on Ackerly. I hope that he and the village board will see that cutting down that tree will work exactly against our hopes for Jermain.

In the short term, if that specific tree is a problem, put bulb-outs before or after it. Add speed bumps. Put in cross walks with rumble strips before and after it. Anything the village does to protect that poor molested tree will also serve to slow traffic down on Jermain – to something near the posted speed limit. We all agree that should be our first priority.

Besides, I love that tree. From a bike you grow to love the living things you pass. If it needs pruning, so be it. Let’s honor our living history and give trees preference over cars.

Killing a beautiful centenarian to placate speeders is just wrong.


Ken Dorph

Sag Harbor


Yes to History


Dear Editor:

We should remember that Jermain is a narrow old lane in an historic part of an 18th century village. Its quaint narrowness and crowded street trees help hold the line on traffic speed as people rush in and out of the village and its aspect helps define our sense of place – an old Whaler’s Village, that still adheres to a few quirky amenities, that still has a little character. Who says we can’t have our village character, street trees and all, and safe streets? Only a few who haven’t the vision or courage to say YES to compromise and YES to the power, vision and inspiration of our history.

When I was a child, I lived in a town constructed during WWII. There was nothing quirky or endearing about any of our streets. All of them were extra-wide, without any trees whatever near their edges, much less lapping into them. To the maximum extent possible, streets ran wide and straight to their destinations in a web of uninspired blacktop. At the age of 8, I went to visit my recently-retired grandparents in south Florida. To my amazement, on the street where they lived, the developers had left not one, but two palm trees standing in the middle of the road – not poised delicately on the side, hanging over for shade – but smack in the center of the road. I loved it. What a pleasant break from convention. Dangerous? Perhaps. Did it slow traffic whizzing around the circle? You bet. Did it add to the neighborhood’s character and livability? Without question. And I’ve NEVER forgotten that street or those trees, though countless other Florida places visited in my life have long since faded into forgetfulness.

Where will we stop in our efforts to retrofit our village, our streets, our homes and our quality of life to conform to tired and failed post-industrial, manicured, sterile urban standards?  This past weekend, I counted at least four more trees on that same stretch of Jermain that commit the egregious offense of being partly within the street bed or curb line… Shall we take them down too? And how about all those telephone poles mere inches from the edge of the road? Are they too big a hazard for our fast-driving car crowd? Jermain is narrow and unsafe as it rounds the bend and heads to its intersection with Madison. Shall we take out houses, rip up side walks and make it a high-speed corridor for transit through our village? Jermain is but one of dozens of roads in our historic village that present unsafe, narrow, tree-lined obstacles to people in a hurry: Where will we stop?

Not so long ago, we spent thousands of dollars to shore up the base of a sycamore tree threatened by erosion on the shores of nearby Otter Pond. How is it that we can now even entertain the idea of slaughtering the far more visible, majestic and quirky oak tree beside an historic cemetery along an 18th Century lane? The Sag Harbor Express has it right: Every possible effort should be made to save this tree and to alter our driving patterns on Jermain. Surely it will cost us FAR LESS in the long run to invest in our community character and to protect our quality of life by preserving what we have NOW than it will cost us to tear up our trees, streets, houses and sidewalks to accommodate a foreign sense of high-speed urban modernity.


Dr. Stuart R. Lowrie


Sag Harbor


Dear Bryan,

I am encouraging the village of Sag Harbor to think more broadly for practical and fair solutions to the “tree issue” on Jermain. The real issue is control of speeding, and it is high time that an effort is made to calm the driving on this street with a bump out or with speed bumps etc. There are many local voices that have wonderful suggestions, why should we be beholden always to the threat of litigation?  Is this “fear of the fear” really just a failure of imagination, forever acting to protect against greedy and frivolous lawsuits?

Please, let us together encourage our government to reconsider the decision to take down a tree, and in doing so, possibly  lose the opportunity to begin resolving the greater issue of safe multi-modal transport in Sag Harbor village.


Sinead FitzGibbon

Sag Harbor


Salvaging Cell Phones


To the Editor: 

Bring your old cell phones to Southampton Village Hall on Saturday, September 27 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and they will be collected and recycled for you.

SAVE (Southampton Advocates for the Village Environment) will donate your old  cell phones to local charities for distribution to victims of domestic violence and others in need.

Look for the Cell Phone Recycle table in front of Southampton Village Hall on Main Street this Saturday. Simply drop your cell phone and charger in the box, and we will take care of the rest.

SAVE is Mayor Epley’s newly-created environmental advisory committee. The cell phone recycling effort is the first of a series of projects to help our community reduce its carbon footprint. Thanks for your participation

Jane Finalborgo


Member of SAVE




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