Commercial fishermen who wharf their boats at the town-operated commercial fishing dock at Shinnecock Inlet say that poor upkeep and slow repairs following Hurricane Sandy have made the boat basin a hazardous and increasingly unusable center for fishing.
Lack of lighting and gaps in the planks of the dock that fishermen use to unload fish and gear are dangerous, some of the boat owners said this week, and mounds of sand washed into the basin by waves crossing over the barrier beaches and into the bay has made some of the boat slips unusable.
“We have a number of serious problems down there,” said Brian Trujillo, the owner of the 45-foot dragger, Patriot. “The lights are all knocked over or broken off, and the dock was damaged in some spots. But the biggest problem is the sand.”
Mr. Trujillo said that at least three of the slips have been rendered unusable because the sand has piled up so high that the water is now too shallow to get a boat in. At least one fisherman has been displaced from his slip because of the sand problem, and more would be if the issue is not addressed by the warmer months.
Neighboring captain Bob Makis, who owns a 65-foot dragger, Terri Sue, said the holes in the dock are dangerous, especially since the dock is bathed in darkness when the sun goes down because none of the lights work.
“When it’s dark, it’s very dark and dangerous,” his wife, Tara, said of the dock. “It’s scary for me to go down there. Even the parking lot—we used to have at least one light, now there’s none and there’s none on the dock and there’s big holes.”
During Hurricane Sandy, storm waves flattened the ocean dunes on the opposite side of Dune Road in Hampton Bays, pushing the sand across the parking lots of the commercial docks and restaurants on the west side of the inlet, leaving a blanket of sand eight feet deep in some places. Town Highway Department crews spent days bulldozing the sand away, pushing it back into makeshift dunes to offer what little protection they could against the next onslaught from Mother Nature.
Since then, little has been done to repair the dock area, the fishermen said.
Southampton Town Parks and Recreation Department Superintendent Chris Bean said the town has applied to the State Department of Environmental Conservation for a permit to remove the sand from the basin but the review has been slow going because of the heavy load of permit applications following Sandy. He said there are also plans in the works to repair the lighting and fix the dock, and that the town has been waiting to see how much aid it gets from the Federal Emergency Management Agency in the wake of the storm.
He estimated that the damage to the dock from the storm would cost between $15,000 and $20,000 to repair.
“We are going to fix it either way, but have to see how much is going to come out of our pocket,” Mr. Bean said. “It will all get fixed—it’s just a matter of getting it going. If FEMA is not going to pay for it we have to come up with the funds ourselves, which is always a process.”
Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said the town will address the problems and that the amount of FEMA funding the town receives should not impact the extent of the work. She said town officials have also been working with the Long Island Power Authority to get a 200-volt electric cable run from the mainland to the commercial dock so that a ice house can be installed for storing fish and filling fish holds with ice before the boats go to sea.
The fishermen noted that many of the issues at the dock were a problem long before Sandy hit, and that the hurricane just magnified the neglect. Most galling, Ms. Makis said, was that town crews were down at the boat basin just a few days after the storm to repair damaged trim on a town-owned building on the property.
“There used to be a dockmaster down here when the town first took it over, keeping an eye on things, making sure the fire extinguishers were good and that lights were working. It was great,” Ms. Makis said. “Now there’s nobody, it seems. It’s pretty apparent that our rent doesn’t go back into that dock.”