Sag Harbor Takes First Steps Toward Long Wharf Overhaul

Long Wharf in Sag Harbor, in need of repair and maintenance, photographed on Wednesday, December 14. Michael Heller photo.

By Douglas Feiden

Long Wharf would be enveloped by a boardwalk-style promenade on all three sides. Handsome new benches would be interspersed alongside a protective railed walkway. New lighting would provide safety, while allowing pedestrians to bask in its warm, soft glow.

And a Sag Harbor landmark — erected on the site of the original 1770 pier, serving mariners and tourists, doubling as a glorified parking lot — would be rebuilt, reimagined and reinvented as a village waterfront gateway.

Those plans are all in the conceptual phase right now. No designs have been agreed to, and no renderings, drawings or blueprints have been released. Cost estimates range widely. Discussions on financing the project remain at a preliminary stage.

But the Village Board of Trustees signaled its commitment to the transformation of Long Wharf at its monthly meeting on Tuesday, December 13, when it passed two key resolutions to advance the effort and appropriate the first critical seed funding.

In the first resolution, the aboard authorized a $123,000 expenditure for the village’s engineer, Paul Grosser of P.W. Grosser Consulting, to oversee the preparation of plans, permits, and bid packets, including construction administration and observation, for the “Long Wharf Rehabilitation Project.”

In layman’s terms, that is the first step toward putting the project out to bid.

Then in the second resolution, the board hired F. Michael Hemmer, a surveyor, to conduct a new survey of the wharf and its environs. His fee was not quantified.

Both measures were passed unanimously, with neither discussion nor debate, and are the first steps to rebuild the pier and upgrade its bulkhead, giving a new lease on life to its creaky infrastructure and rotting underbelly — and redesigning its amenities to make it a mecca for visitors, residents and boaters.

Central to the emerging vision: The promenade along the west side of Long Wharf, heading south, would connect to the windmill, then continue seamlessly under the Lance Cpl. Jordan C. Haerter Veterans Memorial Bridge, and finally wend its way into the planned John Steinbeck Waterfront Park behind the 7-Eleven.

“Long Wharf really is one of the biggest assets the village has,” said Trustee Ken O’Donnell, who is the board’s liaison for docks, harbors and public works. “Currently, it’s really just a parking lot that extends into the water. After this project is completed, it will be the crown jewel of the harbor.”

Merchants should not fret: The parking isn’t going to disappear.

“The idea is to maximize that space, and make it more pedestrian-friendly — and get everybody out of the road,” Mr. O’Donnell said in an interview. “It would keep the parking aspect, but make it a lot more pleasing, and we wouldn’t have quite the swath of asphalt that is in there now.”

Safety is a paramount concern, he added.

“Instead of risking your life by walking in the middle of the wharf on one side, or falling into the drink on the other, you could get your ice cream cone and basically stroll the boardwalk around the entire perimeter of the wharf, under the bridge and into the new Steinbeck Park,” Mr. O’Donnell said. “That is the dream, and I think it is very obtainable.”

The scope of the work is ambitious and would involve, among other things, asphalt removal and repair, fortifying the steel sheeting, back-filling and compaction, installation of water and electric utilities on marine pedestals, recoating and re-leveling the uneven surfaces, shoring up a compromised bulkhead, and replacing the parking-field lighting with promenade-style lighting.

“Oh, boy, it is in dire need of repairs,” said Mayor Sandra Schroeder. “There are cracks in the steel sheathing that have to be welded, the top has to be taken off and the sand under the tar has to be removed, replaced and filled in in the areas where it has washed out.”

And she added, “If we don’t do it now, it’s just going to get worse, and we’ll need to do a lot more later.”

It won’t come cheap to rebuild the 1,000-foot-long, village-owned pier, a former county road that sports visible signs of rust and decay, not to mention a few gaping holes.

“The first guesstimate I heard was $2 million,” the mayor said in an interview.

An earlier proposal advanced to rehabilitate Long Wharf a couple of years ago, but which was not acted on, called for spacing out repairs over a 10-year period, with costs in the $100,000-and-up range per year. Ms. Schroeder made it clear that she favors a very different approach that would likely involve bonding.

“I have been told that doing it all in one year, instead of taking 10 years, would save $300,000,” she said. “Besides, if you did it over 10 years, you would aggravate everybody for 10 years in a row, and you’d be called ‘fish bait.’”

Mr. O’Donnell said he believed the cost of doing the entire project all at once could be brought down, perhaps to the $1.6 million or $1.7 million range. Village Treasurer Eileen Tuohy will be crunching the numbers, and she’s expected to present financing options to the trustees early next year.

“We’re also working with our grant officer to ramp up potential grant funding for improvements and restoration of Long Wharf,” said Trustee Robby Stein at the board meeting.

If the financing comes together, and permitting and other approvals are obtained, the construction cycle is expected to last roughly eight months, village officials say.

“In a perfect world, the work could start after HarborFest in 2017 and conclude by Memorial Day in 2018,” Mr. O’Donnell said. “But of course, if there’s a horrendous winter, it could be delayed.”

Next year’s HarborFest is scheduled for September 9 and 10.

“And we’ll still have the whole boating season,” Ms. Schroeder said.

The first extended wharf in Sag Harbor’s history was constructed near the site of Baron’s Cove in 1761, and nine years later, it was rebuilt a few hundred yards to the east at the site of today’s Long Wharf.

At that point, the pier was 495 feet long. In 1808, it was expanded northward by another 300 feet, and was lengthened again, to its present 1,000-foot length, in 1821, according to a 2012 report compiled by then-Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman.

Six years after the last whaling ship, the Myra, departed Sag Harbor in 1871, a warehouse fire ravaged Long Wharf, but it was quickly rebuilt, and its dimensions in 1877 mostly matched its measurements today.

Numbered among its various owners have been the Wharf Company, Fahy’s Watchcase Company, the Long Island Rail Road, Sag Harbor in 1947, Suffolk County in 1948 and Sag Harbor again in 2012.