To Sag Harbor Village officials, it is just part of an old dump that could be put to better use. But to members of the Friends of the Long Pond Greenbelt, it’s an integral part of an 800-acre preserve that protects a series of fragile coastal ponds and wetlands stretching from Sag Harbor to Sagaponack.
The village’s plan to use a portion of a 24-acre site it owns on the Sag Harbor-Bridgehampton Turnpike as an impound yard for vehicles seized by police has attracted a growing chorus of opposition from environmentalists.
The plan calls for the paving of an 80-by-60-foot, fenced-off area behind an existing metal shed just off the road and south of the Southampton Town transfer station. An area much larger than the site envisioned for the impound yard is currently occupied as a temporary parking area for PSEG vehicles that are being used for storm-hardening work on the electrical grid.
Although the town had originally sought expedited review of the application, last Thursday in an appearance before the Southampton Town Planning Board, attorney Elizabeth Vail said the village would not object to a public hearing on the matter. The board scheduled that for May 24.
Dai Dayton, the president of the Friends of the Long Pond Green Belt, and Sandra Ferguson, the organization’s vice president, are calling for Southampton Town to ask the village if it would be willing to sell the property for preservation.
“It is bordered by preserved property on all three sides,” said Ms. Ferguson, noting that the town, Suffolk County and the Nature Conservancy have all targeted land in the greenbelt.
They say they are worried because the site is above grade from a kettlehole pond and cite concerns that leaking fluids from stored wrecked vehicles could pollute it and the groundwater. They also object to its current use, temporary or not, to store the vehicles and equipment of PSEG contractors, including trucks and utility poles treated with creosote and other preservatives that are being piled on the ground.
“What kind of an argument is it that it was once a dump?” Ms. Dayton asked. “That’s why they abandoned it. It was affecting the Long Pond Greenbelt.”
“Look at Staten Island,” added Ms. Ferguson. “The dump there is being turned into a park.”
Sag Harbor Police Chief Austin J. McGuire said the village police, who currently store seized and wrecked vehicles in a corner of the village highway department yard behind the Sag Harbor Firehouse, need a secure place that can be fenced and monitored with security cameras.
“We can have anywhere from three to four cars to up to a dozen,” he said. “We don’t want it to be too small because we aren’t getting any less busy here.”
The chief said the small area would be blacktopped and edged with a lip to contain any potential spills. “It’s going to have a minimal, minimal impact on the area,” he said.
“They might be doing the best they can, but it’s not just a good place to do anything,” countered Ms. Dayton.
The village’s highway superintendent, Dee Yardley, said the village has eyed the site for that use for decades, adding that in 1995 it put up a sign labeling it as an impound yard, although it was never used as such. The current situation, which is taking up a portion of his department’s yard’s is untenable, he said.
“The cars become our responsibility once they come here,” he said. “Right now, I’ve got four or five. I’ve had 12, They can be there for a few months or long-term. I’ve had one there a year and a half.”
Ms. Dayton and Ms. Ferguson suggested that the village might be able to contract with East Hampton Village, which has its own impound yard outside the village on Accabonac Road, but Chief McGuire said that would not be practical. Every time a vehicle is impounded, an officer is dispatched to inventory its contents. Requiring officers to travel to East Hampton would reduce coverage in the village, he said. Besides, he added, with liability issues factored in, it is unlikely East Hampton would like to share its space with Sag Harbor.
The Friends of the Long Pond Green Belt have been joined by the Group for the East End and the Nature Conservancy in opposing the current plans.
In a letter to the planning board, Group for the East End president Robert DeLuca pointed out that the greenbelt has been recognized for “its fragile environmental features, its valuable water recharge characteristics and its rare and vulnerable coastal pond shore community.” The parcel, in question, would best be served by preservation, he added.
“Knowing the history of the Long Pond Greenbelt and its importance, it would be very advisable for this whole thing to be slowed down for there to be a conversation and dialog,” said Kevin McDonald of the Nature Conservancy, “not in the context of an application, but in the broader contest of what are the legitimate needs of the village and how they can be met and what are the legitimate needs of the greenbelt and how it can be protected.”