Mary Reister has a big problem with the old Ponquogue Bridge.
The Hampton Bays resident maintains that the southern portion of the former crossing is dirty, dangerous and in disrepair. She’s gone out of her way to make her opinions known by writing letters to Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst and to The Southampton Press. She’s even gone so far as to draw up a proposal for what the site should look like.
She’s also 10 years old.
The elementary school student visits the remnants of the old bridge, which is utilized as a Shinnecock Bay fishing pier, several times a week with her older brother, David, an avid fisherman. While she enjoys spending time with her sibling by the water, she said she cannot help but notice the crumbling pavement, missing wooden boards and broken glass strewn about.
“There are a lot of kids who don’t come anymore because it’s dangerous,” Mary said.
Once a wooden drawbridge that spanned the entire bay, both ends of the old crossing were relegated to fishing piers after the new high-arching concrete Ponquogue Bridge was built in 1986. Over the years, both sections have taken a beating from the weather, most recently during Hurricane Sandy in 2012, which heavily damaged the northern pier, severing a 200-foot portion of it from the shoreline. After the storm, town officials contemplated tearing down at least the north pier, but deemed it too costly.
But Mary and David aren’t necessarily looking for the piers to be torn down. In fact, they would prefer that the town make the necessary repairs and improve them, according to their mother, Stacey Reister.
The illustration that Mary sent to Ms. Throne-Holst includes planters with flowers, some grass along the sides of the approach, benches, and a more secure pier, Ms. Reister said, adding that her children also took issue with the amount of trash in the area.
“Both of them were concerned, because there’s usually three garbage cans here. They’re always overflowing, they’re never empty, yet they tell us to recycle, reuse, throw our stuff away, and it’s blowing into the water,” she said while standing near the pier Friday evening. “It’s not good, and they just had the beach cleanup … and there were dead seagulls in here, used diapers in here, broken glass, broken bottles and all that kind of stuff in here. And that’s what ticked them off enough to write their letters.”
Southampton Town Deputy Supervisor Frank Zappone said the town still is hoping to address the situation, but money remains an issue. In the face of its fiscal shortcomings, the town is seeking $1.5 million in state and/or federal funding to finance a hazard mitigation plan that includes fixing the piers.
Mr. Zappone said the plan is a threefold endeavor that includes removing unsafe portions of the bridge, as well as sections that could be prone to collapsing during future storms, repairing and fortifying the remaining portions of the bridge, and using signs to direct boaters how to safely navigate the nearby channels.
It is a priority, he added, that the piers be kept intact to some degree.
“That’s an asset the community wants us to protect,” Mr. Zappone said. “So we’re going to do so.”