What Southampton Town Parks and Recreation Director Kristen Doulos said would be a simple maintenance project to clear away vegetation and sand that was encroaching on parking spaces at Long Beach in Noyac has unintentionally hit a nerve.
Sag Harbor residents Jill Musnicki and Helen Roussel, who frequent the beach, say the extent of the clearing, which extends for about a mile along the bay side of the parking lot, and the heavy-handed way it was carried out, are alarming.
Of particular concern to Ms. Musnicki was the removal of native rose and beach plum shrubs, but especially a mature mulberry tree that, while encroaching on the parking lot, provided a source of food and cover for birds.
Ms. Roussel, a member of the Southampton Town Sustainability Committee, said the removal of the vegetation would leave the parking lot and Long Beach Road beyond it susceptible to flooding during major storms.
“We need to think more about drainage and holding down sand and less about keeping the beaches perfect,” Ms. Roussel said. “If roots are growing into the car park, so be it. If we had more trees in car parks, we’d have less flooding.”
The pair have started a petition, “Rehabilitate Long Beach,” which can be found at chng.it/nt6kZvynon change.org, requesting that the town work with the Peconic Estuary Program and use money from the Community Preservation Fund to restore the cleared area with native trees, shrubs, and grasses to provide a more storm-resilient barrier. The petition had been signed by 291 people by Tuesday afternoon.
Although the petition states, “Long Beach, a Sag Harbor oasis and critical part of the Peconic estuary, is being systematically destroyed,” town officials said that was simply not the case.
Councilman Tommy John Schiavoni said he had been alerted to the petition and the concerns it raised.
Although he acknowledged that some of the clearing, specifically the removal of the mulberry tree, may have been “heavy handed,” he said it was necessary to clear the growth from the parking spaces because many vehicles have been unable to pull all the way into their spaces, and they then pose a safety hazard to the many people who walk with their dogs or children, jog or ride bicycles up and down the length of the parking lot.
“Beach access is important to us as one of the drivers of our local economy,” he said. “We do maintain our beaches to keep them in good shape for the summer season for our residents and guests.” But the town, he added, is equally committed to preserving and maintaining the environment.
Ms. Doulos said the project began last fall when parks department maintenance crews patched the parking lot. The plan called for them to return this spring to restripe the parking spaces. First, though, workers had to scrape windblown sand and growth back to the edge of the parking lot borders because it had “encroached significantly into the parking area,” she said.
Ms. Doulos said the mulberry tree was uprooted when a worker used heavy equipment to clear sand and soil from the parking lot in front of it and unintentionally dug up roots that ran along the surface of the asphalt. She said while it was unfortunate the tree fell down, it would likely have toppled over in a storm sooner or later.
Ms. Doulos said the town’s chief environmental analyst, Marty Shea, had advised her the maintenance work did not require a permit from the state Department of Environmental Conservation, but that didn’t stop someone from reporting the work to the DEC.
“Someone told them we were taking down the osprey nest that we put up, but we would never do that,” she said. In any event, she said the DEC concurred with Mr. Shea that the town was acting within the law.
The petition also requested the aid of state Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. “While I’m sympathetic to the petition, the remedy lies with the town,” he said.
Ms. Doulos said the parks department planned to undertake some revegetation “so hopefully this soon becomes a distant memory,” but she added she could not promise that a mulberry tree would be found to replace the tree that was lost, saying that type of tree was not indigenous to the beach environment and a replacement would likely require irrigation, which is not in place at the beach.
She added that many people had made it a point to thank workers for sprucing up the facility. “For every person who wants one thing, there is another who wants another thing,” she said.
Ms. Musnicki said in the summer her family and friends meet at Long Beach two or three evenings a week to swim, have dinner, or just watch the sunset. One of the simple pleasures of those outings was picking berries from the mulberry tree, she added.
“It’s sad they pulled out a hardy plant that worked so hard to live there,” she said, adding it would be difficult to have success in planting a replacement because of the conditions. Seeing the plants cut back along the beach was disheartening enough for her to take to Facebook and launch the petition drive.