Legislation approving the transfer of the Shinnecock commercial fishing docks in Hampton Bays from Suffolk County to the Town of Southampton was signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo earlier this month.
Both Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. and State Senator Kenneth P. LaValle sponsored the legislation, which moves ownership completely into the hands of the town.
“We’ve been maintaining the dock while someone else owned the dock,” Town Councilwoman Julie Lofstad said on Tuesday, August 14. “Now, we’ll own the thing we’ve been fixing for many years. If we want to do something with it, we don’t have to ask anyone.”
Before the agreement was made, the county owned the facility, which is located on the eastern end of Dune Road in Hampton Bays. In 2002, the county entered into an agreement with the town to evenly split the cost of all repairs to the commercial docks. But over the years, the docks fell into disrepair, with planks popping loose and rotting from exposure to the weather.
County Legislator Bridget Fleming explained that the deal, signed by the governor on August 9, was necessary, given the county’s fiscal situation.
“The county is cash-strapped,” she said. “Our operating expenses aren’t met by revenues.”
When improvements were needed, the town would have to sign off on the repairs and pay 50 percent, as would the county. Ms. Fleming said the added layers of government approval only complicated things.
Now that the park is completely in the town’s possession, town officials need only to get approval from within to make changes.
“This was an idea whose time had come,” Ms. Fleming said. “It was clearly the right thing to do, because the town is in the position to invest in and support what is a critical piece of the economy in Hampton Bays. Those commercial fishermen need a dock they can rely on.”
Because the property is on parkland, the transfer of ownership required the state to pass legislation that would allow the county to hand it to the town.
The docks are home to the town’s commercial fishing fleet, which Ms. Lofstad works with directly. Her husband, Raymond Lofstad, is a commercial fisherman, and she manages the books for the business.
“We all want to see the dock run the best that it can be,” she said, adding that in the past there have been problems with people dumping garbage there. “It’s nice to have it looking good when visitors are there.”
Ms. Lofstad recently went to San Francisco and said that the docks there, which are a popular tourist attraction, are beautiful. Now that Southampton Town is taking over the commercial docks, she said, she hopes that they too will become an attraction for visitors.
To maintain the docks, the Town Board passed a resolution on August 14 appointing a Shinnecock Commercial Dock Management Committee made up of town officials and dock slip holders. The board includes Town Parks Director Kristen Doulos, Parks Maintenance Supervisor Jon Erwin, Dock Manager Walter Britton and slip holders John Berglin, Scott Brzezinski and Norman Stiansen.
“Fishermen are very proud of our heritage,” Ms. Lofstad said. “[The docks] are a source of pride for the fishermen and hopefully for the people who live here.”
Mr. Thiele said he was “thrilled” that the governor signed the bill into law, as the docks are a “critical resource” in the town and needs some repair.
“This transfer will protect our county taxpayers from covering capital repair costs while allowing the town to make dock improvements that will serve the thriving fishing industry,” he said.
Mr. LaValle echoed Mr. Thiele, adding that the legislation will allow needed improvements.