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Workshop Report: Environmental and Aesthetic Impacts of Small Docks

The stated purpose of the workshop was to make available to the public the latest info, scientific studies, experience and expertise of coastal resource managers of NOAA, because we of Southold Town are working together to address the challenges, needs, desires and rights of all to practice responsible stewardship and develop a long term strategy for managing the process of shoreline development and protection. I attended to bring back a report of what it was about, and here is what I got out of it:

The presenters were two consultants who are paid to prepare and present information to help people who want to facilitate efforts to ban, control, limit, and regulate small docks. While the NOAA representative said several times, “We are not here to take a position against docks, that is for the local political process to decide”, the 5 hours of negativity directed toward waterfront owners, boaters, and dock owners (but not kayak and canoe boaters), was so tiring, that by the end, most attendees had left. It would not surprise me if Steve Bliven, the consultant, is hired by the Town or outside group to promulgate dock policy for the Town. That is his job, that is what he was selling.

Here is how Steve Bliven says we get this done:

  • Use Florida and South Carolina as examples of over development. Survey the public with questions like “Do you think there are areas in Southold Town where there should NOT be docks allowed?” A poll result showing an overwhelming affirmative response indicates a mandate for regulation!
  • A graph showing nationwide dock applications increasing over the last 20 years reinforces the move of the population to the coasts, but the number of dock permit denials is a problem (because it is small) and a frustration of coastal managers.
  • We can base our opposition to docks on science: how they negatively impact vegetation, contaminate the water, causes more boat use (a bad thing), and cause navigational problems, and are aesthetically unpleasing.
  • A tool that we can use to gain popular support in our move against docks is a variation of the logical argument ‘reducto ad absurdum:’ there is free software available where we can take a picture of a local vista, for example, Southold Bay, and insert a dock on every separate property. The result is shown to be an illustration of “total build-out.” It seems that this potential alone is reason to support moratoriums and total bans. The emphasis is that we don’t have an issue with a single dock; the issue is the “SPRAWL” of docks.

Other tools we can use to stop the sprawl:

  • At State level: Environmental reviews by the DEC is a useful gauntlet
  • At Local level: Zoning is a great tool. Just say “no docks” in a particular zone so everyone knows up front that the waterfront can’t be used by the owner. Building codes could be expanded to make dock construction more difficult and discourage construction. Local environmental ordinances can be strengthened to further reduce to possibility of dock sprawl.

The community will have to decide how we respond to this positioning of an argument for further regulating docks, and implicit in this is the old “us against them” mentality. My impression is that the concept of a waterfront property owner being a person passionate about the water in the same way a golfer lives in a golf course community or a gardener lives where there is room to have a garden; the idea that a waterfront property owner is such, because he is also a boater, sailor, clammer, fisherman, etc. and wants to use the waterfront, is totally foreign to the folks presenting this meeting.

We will have to educate “them” about values “we” hold, what is important to us, why it is important, and what it is that we want. Quiet enjoyment is not an option. Failing that, expect a big public outcry to stop the bad guys on the water from stealing their public access and polluting our maritime resources both environmentally and aesthetically.

Any member wishing to read the two handouts which detail the meeting are welcome to them. Email me: southoldvoice@gmail.com

John Kramer

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