By Stephen J. Kotz
The bad news is that in many instances Sag Harbor’s surface and groundwaters are polluted. The good news is that there is funding available for mitigation projects, and the village is well positioned to take advantage of it.
That was the gist of a report given by Chick Voorhis, the village’s environmental consultant, to the Village Board on Tuesday. The presentation was a reprise of one requested by the village Harbor Committee in July. The village used the report in its submission to both East Hampton and Southampton towns, which were required to adopt water quality project plans as part of the successful November referendum to extend the Community Preservation Fund and earmark up to 20 percent of its proceeds to addressing those concerns.
Harbor Committee chairman John Shaka said he was impressed by the breadth and depth of Mr. Voorhis’s report when he gave it to the Harbor Committee and thought it was important that it be given a broader audience, so he asked Mayor Sandra Schroeder to put it on the trustees’ agenda.
“I think everyone should know about this,” Mr. Shaka said of water issues facing the village, adding that the village board already has been working on a number of issues raised by the report.
Mr. Voorhis said that neither town “gave a lot of emphasis to the village” in their own water quality plans, but that “there are opportunities for water quality improvements that really benefit the region, not just the village.”
One purpose of compiling the data on water quality and proposing projects to improve it is to position the village to take advantage of funding opportunities, he said, adding that because the CPF is administered at the town level, the village must request funding for its projects from them.
Mr. Voorhis’s report calls for a number of measures to reduce the presence of pollutants and restore habitat in areas that are currently closed to shellfishing and shown to have high levels of pathogens and nitrogen. He presented a series of maps that showed varying degrees pollution across most of the village harborfront as well as in portions of Sag Harbor Cove.
Another map showed the high number of undersized residential lots in the village: If current Suffolk County current standards were applied today, there are 1,528 lots in the northern portion of the village that would be smaller than the required 40,000-square-foot size. Another 1,193 lots mostly on the south side of the village would be too small for the 20,000-square-foot standards now in place.
Among the proposed remedies is a call to upgrade aging septic systems — a key component in both towns’ plans for use of their CPF money. The report also calls for improving drainage systems, and the development of rain gardens, which, as their name implies, collect rainwater before it enters surface waters and use it to irrigate plantings. Other measures encourage projects to steer runoff to tree trenches, which act in a similar fashion to rain gardens, and reduce the amount of paved surfaces by, among other things, replacing pavement with permeable surfaces that allow rainwater to seep through them and thus get filtered by the soil before entering the groundwater.
The village also has access to other sources of funding, including the state and county, Mr. Voorhis told the board. In fact, it has already received a grant from the New York State Department of State to update its Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan, a major planning document that oversees the village’s waterfront.
Besides updating the LWRP, he recommended the village update its harbor management plan, continue with its wetlands permit review and evaluate its state stormwater management program.