On Monday, with just eight people in attendance at the monthly village trustee work session, Sagaponack Village Hall was standing room only. Since incorporation three years ago, the village has rented two tiny rooms in a small, real estate office on the corner of Sagg Main Street and Montauk Highway. Whenever the trustees have a busy agenda, the room fills and people are left standing in the doorway.
That will change however if the residents of the tiny village approve a bond referendum of no more than $2 million to allow the village to purchase a building on .6-acre parcel of land just east of the current village offices. The Sagaponack Village Board plans to acquire the property at 3175 Montauk highway for $1.2 million. The bond issue would provide for the purchase and any necessary renovations to make the site and the building suitable for municipal use and public meetings. The new building would be able to accommodate 30 or more residents at public meetings, as well as provide office and storage space for the village clerk and village’s building inspector.
At Monday’s meeting the trustees briefly discussed a letter from Crestview Lane resident Alan Stillman on the erosion of the village’s beaches.
“What does he want anybody to do,” asked trustee Alfred Kelman.
“He wants you to restore the beach,” said village mayor Don Louchheim.
The beaches in the village have been an ongoing discussion at the trustee meetings, particularly having to do with the debris left from a late season storm a few months ago. The village however has no jurisdiction over the beaches, which are maintained by the Southampton Town Trustees.
“They don’t seem to understand that we don’t have jurisdiction, and there is nothing we can do,” said Louchheim.
“We’ve been doing everything we can do,” said Kelman. “We’ve been supporting litigation and we’ve been sympathetic.”
The litigation Kelman referred to is a New York State Supreme Court case against Suffolk County and the Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) that Sagaponack resident Gary Ireland has been waging for eight years. Ireland contends that the two groins placed in front of Georgica estate nearly 30 years ago have resulted in westward erosion that has caused his mother to move her cottage inland not once but twice.
“I’m seeking basically the same thing from [Suffolk County and the ACE] that my mother told me as a kid, to clean up after yourself,” said Ireland. “They created this tragic environmental disaster which claimed our public beaches and they should clean it up.”
On Monday, Kelman said Stillman should call Ireland.
“I know [the trustees] are overwhelmed and I appreciate they have a lot of work to do,” said Ireland. “But I think the government officials from the village up have to take on the responsibility and stop passing the buck. Certainly the village of Sagaponack has to take their beaches seriously.”
Stillman said he’s been attempting to confront the issue for 28 years.
“Somebody in the world has to make up their minds,” he said. “If you call up Southampton, they say now it’s Sagaponack. If you call Sagapaonack, they say it’s Southampton.”
Stillman said he’s not the type of person to simply throw up his hands and be done with it. He has contacted government officials low to high and reached out to senators Charles Schumer and Hillary Clinton, as well as congressman Timothy Bishop. He said if the village has no authority over the beaches they could at least follow his lead.
“What they do have the authority to do is request a meeting with representative from senator Schumer’s and senator Clinton’s office, with Mr. Bishop, with representatives from the town and the county, and have a meeting. Sit down and solve the problem,” said Stillman. “They have a moral authority to do that and an obligation.”
As for Ireland, he said both sides in the case have concluded their final arguments and that they are now waiting on the judge to render a decision and that he feels very positive.
Stillman though is not happy with the idea of simply waiting to see if Ireland wins and the county is forced to remove the groins.
“It’s not logical. You got elected mayor of Sagaponack not to walk away from people but to help people. Why should Gary Ireland have to sue people to make this happen?”
Louchheim said he, too, was very unhappy with the erosion. He said, though, perhaps the waterfront homeowners missed an opportunity when the town tried to create a coastal erosion district to give them more leverage in dealing with the problem. He said the village supported the town’s effort, but in a referendum, the homeowners did not.
“The question is what do people want us to do about it, that we can do,” said the mayor. “And whatever requests that have been made to us in terms of advocacy, we have responded to affirmatively.”
Top Photo: The possible new site of Sagaponack Village Hall. Michael Heller photo.