Protecting Our Waterfront 9/15/11


For the last few months, we have watched with growing concern as the one committee truly tasked with fighting on behalf of water quality in Sag Harbor has floundered, allowing homeowners to skirt the minimum requirements under village law when it comes to planting native vegetation buffers on the waterfront.

Going into this week’s Sag Harbor Village Harbor Committee meeting, we in fact believed we would be writing an editorial questioning why this committee wouldn’t enforce the village’s requirement of a minimum 25-foot buffer of native plants and shrubs on the wetland border of properties that are being improved. Given that Sag Harbor Village is densely populated and largely a waterfront community, this minimum requirement is the only recourse the village has to force homeowners to build protective buffers of plants to improve water quality. The stark reality is we live in a region that has seen annual toxic algae blooms, depleted valuable shellfish stocks and aquatic vegetation. All this has been decimated by increasingly high levels of nitrogen, poor water quality caused by stormwater runoff and increases in residential development across the East End.

Thankfully, it appears the Harbor Committee, and in particular its chairman Bruce Tait, have begun to realize that they do, in fact, have the power — and the obligation — to enforce the existing law and begin to improve the waterfront, one parcel at a time.

It’s a welcome change to see this committee not only enforce the minimum requirements outlined in village law, but also seek more than the minimum from those homeowners who are developing their properties to the hilt, and have land available to create a substantial wetland buffer.

We did have particular sympathy for committee member John Christopher, who along with his family has obviously been mindful of the importance of wetlands. That his was the first application the board took a hard-line stance on was purely a coincidence of timing; however, they do have to start somewhere and above all else they must remain consistent if they are to become truly effective. Setting the example by holding their own committee member to the same standard as other residents is a good place to start.

Residents in Sag Harbor Village should also be aware that when it comes to these kinds of requirements, they are fortunate. Neighboring communities with generally larger properties enforce 75-foot buffers of natural vegetation on wetlands. Asking for 25-feet, when there is no clear hardship, should not be an onerous requirement for most.

The reality is the East End is absolutely tethered, from an economic and recreational standpoint, to its waterfront. If we allow our tidal marshes, harbors and bays to be increasingly bombarded by the effects of residential development without taking the steps necessary to preserve our most valuable resource, we are nothing more than fools.