The captains of the growing fleet of sailboats, motorboats and mega yachts that moor or anchor in the waters beyond Sag Harbor’s breakwater may be in for a surprise next summer. So too will the pilots of seaplanes that have routinely taken off and landed there.
If the Village Board adopts a proposed amendment to the waterways code that has been in the works for at least two years, the village may soon require the skippers of all boats that anchor or moor for more than two weeks east of the breakwater to register with the harbormaster, submit proof of insurance and obtain mooring or anchoring permits. The amendment also would bar seaplane takeoffs and landings in the area, although taxiing would be permitted.
Signs of skepticism, if not opposition to the proposal, have recently surfaced on the Village Board, however. Mayor Sandra Schroeder and Trustee Ken O’Donnell both indicated at a Village Board work session in January they had some doubts, with Mr. O’Donnell referring to “over-legislating” as something the village should avoid.
The subject of a brief public hearing before the Village Board on January 8, a work session on January 23, and slated for a new hearing on February 12 at 6 p.m. in Village Hall, the amendment would create a new harbor “outer management area” beyond the breakwater in which the harbormaster would have enforcement powers. The proposal includes an updated, two-part Harbor Management Chart, superimposed on aerial photographs, that was prepared by the village’s environmental consultant, Nelson, Pope & Voorhis, LLC.
Developed by the Harbor Committee under the leadership of its member John Parker, and drafted by the committee’s attorney, Denise Schoen, the proposed amendment comes three years after the State Legislature agreed to Harbormaster Robert Bori’s request that the state extend the village’s jurisdiction well north and east of the breakwater, according to Mr. Parker.
The waterways code currently governs boating activity no further than 1,500 feet from shore, where state waters normally begin and village authority ends. But unlike most waterfront municipalities, Sag Harbor has a natural mooring area well beyond its jurisdiction. That unregulated area beyond the breakwater — where boats often drop a mooring or an anchor in the summer — has become something “like the Wild West out there,” as Mr. O’Donnell put it in an Express interview a year ago.
According to Mr. Parker, the village had trouble finding the owners of boats a few years ago after a nor’easter drove them onto the breakwater or tore them lose. That’s what prompted Mr. Bori’s request to the state for extended jurisdiction, he said.
Only two members of the public spoke at the January 8 hearing on the proposal. “We were a bit unaware of this,” said Robert Camerino of the Sag Harbor Yacht Club, who asked for a delay, as did Ken Deeg of the Sag Harbor Launch & Moorings service, who said he needed time to “look at the changes” in the amendment. He also said the new charts that accompany the amendment were not available when he asked to see them in Village Hall.
Nor were the charts published with the legal notice advertising the January 8 hearing. That’s why Ms. Schoen asked the village to republish the legal notice, with the charts this time, advertising a new hearing for February 12.
The proposal calls for no changes to any existing mooring, anchoring, speed-limit or other waterways regulations, according to Ms. Schoen and Mr. Parker. They said it’s all about the new “Outer Management Area,” the boundary of which stretches from Barcelona Point to the end of the breakwater, and the rules that will apply within it. Nevertheless, there have been enough questions from commercial marina and mooring providers that the Village Board held the unusual work session to go over the proposal with them on January 23.
Among the issues raised at the session were Harbormaster Bori’s contention that limiting boats to 14 “cumulative” days before requiring them to be registered, as the Harbor Committee prefers, would make patrols necessary “24 hours a day” to keep track of them.
The proposal currently calls for a limit of 14 “consecutive” days, which Mr. Parker has said would be ineffective because it would allow a yacht that leaves and moors for a day in Connecticut or Block Island to restart its count upon its return.
Trustee Ken O’Donnell commented, “We’re going over the salary line if this is going to be enforced cumulative 14 days … I understand the Harbor Committee’s concern but, as far as this goes, this is going to be a hard lift on the village level, “cumulative” or “consecutive” …. Who’s going to be out there with a counter? You’re asking a very small office to now regulate a very big area out there.”
“The idea of this was not to chase people out of here,” Mr. Bori said. “We really don’t have a problem with it now. We have a problem 20 or 30 years from now maybe. It can be addressed then but, as of right now, we really don’t have a problem with this, you know, for the few boats that we do have out there.”
Yacht broker Bruce Tait complained that the Harbor Committee should have formally determined that the proposal complied with the village’s LWRP (Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan), in response to which Ms. Schoen noted that the board and its environmental consultant had done so in December.
Another issue had to do with five marker buoys that are shown on both the new charts and the old harbor chart, which was prepared in 2005; they mark the normal 1,500-foot jurisdiction line, south of which no mooring or anchoring is permitted. The buoys have not actually been placed on the water in years.
Ms. Schoen said placing the buoys is critical to successfully enforcing the rules in Justice Court. But some argued they shouldn’t even be shown on the chart. Mayor Sandra Schroeder said the harbormaster had told her “privately” that the buoys were not needed; Trustee O’Donnell said the no-mooring area “kind of defines itself” because “people kind of know where the mooring field is.”
Later, Mr. O’Donnell added, “When we started out on this, Bob and I were out there looking at boats on the breakwater during a nor’easter and there was concern that … all of a sudden, the village [would have] a bill for getting a boat off the breakwater that somebody had sailed down from Connecticut and it wasn’t worth the money or effort on their part and we were stuck with the burden.
“That’s how this thing kind of started,” he added. “And I think Bob and I are of the same thought that we’re not looking to over-legislate out there. It’s just a matter of accountability.”
The mayor asked Mr. Bori how things went in the outer area over the summer.
“I think everything went pretty smooth this summer,” he replied.
“So there’s no serious, terrible issues?” the mayor asked.
“No,” Mr. Bori replied.