Resolutions protect scallops, waterfronts

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The Southampton Town Board has adopted a pair of unrelated code amendments that share similar goals: preserving and protecting the environment.

The first measure gives the Town Trustees, the stewards of Southampton Town’s waterways and bay bottoms, the power to fine property owners more money if they repeatedly flaunt the town code regarding the addition of illegally constructed docks and piers. The second change updates the requirements regarding the harvesting of bay scallops from town waters.

Both resolutions, adopted last month, were introduced by Town Board member Dan Russo, who serves as the board’s liaison to the Town Trustees.

The first resolution increases the penalties for illegally constructed docks and piers that are built adjacent to town waterways and beaches. Before the change, violators were fined $350. According to Town Trustee Fred Havemeyer, that amounted to nothing more than a slap on the wrist.

Now, first-time violators will still pay $350, but the fines increase to $1,000 with second and subsequent violations. Also, the repeated transgressions will now be classified as misdemeanors.

The second resolution modifies the regulations for the size of bay scallops that can be legally removed from town waters so that they are consistent with the standards set by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

Prior to the resolution, scallops measuring either 2.25 inches across the fattest width of their shells, or scallops with the marking of an annual growth ring, were allowed to be taken. Now, scallops must meet both standards of measurement to be legally harvested. The marking of an annual growth ring shows that a scallop has made it through at least one spawning season.

According to Town Trustee President Jon Semlear, a bayman for the past 25 years, the stricter regulation is aimed at preventing juvenile scallops from being taken and gives them additional time to spawn. Mr. Semlear said local scallops have never fully recovered from the brown tide of 1985, except for an anomaly that occurred during the 1994-1995 season.

“That was a great season, especially in Sag Harbor and Shinnecock Bay,” Mr. Semlear said. “But why remains a mystery,” he added, referring to the brown algae that resulted in fish kills. Since then, the scallop harvest has been modest, according to Mr. Semlear.

Mr. Semlear said the Town Trustees have been working with the Nature Conservancy and Cornell Cooperative Extension to revive the once robust scallop industry on Long Island. “This definitely helps,” Mr. Semlear said, referring to the new regulation.

The scallop season runs from November through March and baymen are allowed to take up to 10 bushels per day.

Regarding the first resolution, Mr. Havemeyer noted that illegal piers and docks are harmful to the environment in three ways: they erode the wetlands, they kill aquatic vegetation by blocking sunlight, and props from boats that anchor near the structures can churn up shallow bottoms. Mr. Havemeyer said boats need to be moored in deeper water and accessed by dingy.

Additionally, the town code now includes language that outlaws the use of chemically treated lumber in the construction of docks, bulkheads and pilings. Previously, the stipulation banning the use of treated lumber for such projects was included only in the Town Trustees’ Blue Book, a list of regulations, but not in the town code. Mr. Havemeyer said the purpose for adding this ordinance to the actual town code was to give Southampton Town Bay Constables, who operate under the authority of the Town Police Department, the ability to enforce the law.

The resolution also mandates that all seasonal dock structures and moorings be removed from the water by December 1 each year, and not be installed prior to April 1. Also, permits will now be required from the Town Trustees in order to attach a floating dock or any watercraft to an existing dock.

Mr. Russo explained that the updates in the code target repeat offenders, not those who inadvertently violate the code. Mr. Russo said many people are simply not aware of the code regarding waterfront structures and that part of the intent behind the resolution is to make the code more clear.

“We need to protect our waterways,” said Mr. Havemeyer, noting that some property owners simply ignore the law. “Most people do care, but those that don’t have a significant negative impact. This should help.”

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