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May 20, 2009 10:51 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Activists unite in Sag Harbor

May 20, 2009 10:51 AM

Apathy is certainly not an issue in the Sag Harbor community.

That much was proudly on display in the basement of the Old Whalers’ Church on Sunday afternoon when the representatives and supporters of more than 20 local advocacy groups—pro and con—and public organizations gathered to simply highlight their existence and spread a bit of their individual gospel to others with a proclivity to mobilize for causes.

“It’s hard to walk down the street in Sag Harbor without being asked to sign a petition of some kind every day,” said Gail Slevin, who spoke on behalf of the Sag Harbor Tree Fund.

Sunday’s forum was organized by Save Sag Harbor, a group of residents and business owners formed just two years ago to oppose any move made by a national drugstore chain that was seeking to take over several small shops and merge them into a “big box” drugstore. Fresh off the success of their group’s support for a revamping of the village business district’s zoning, which is poised to be approved by next month, the group is now looking for its next mission, group President Mia Grosjean said. She said the group is setting its sights on better marketing of Main Street businesses.

If it’s being done, being stopped, being fought or being talked about in Sag Harbor, there was a representative present at the forum to report on it. Environmental groups, historic preservationists, support groups, activists of every ilk—anti-development, anti-light, pro-fence, pro-bicyclists—advocates, politicians, school board candidates, even support groups, were among the 70 or so people that filled the church basement—where the Sag Harbor Food Pantry, one of the groups in attendance, distributes food on Tuesdays—just to hear each group’s representative give a short pitch about their group.

Some had very specific subjects in mind when their two minutes on the stump came up, like John Jermain Library Director Catherine Creedon, whose public organization will ask taxpayers for $10 million next month to renovate and expand the library building. Others were simply there to remind motivated people that they were out there if there was a philanthropic minute or dollar to spare. Peconic Baykeeper Kevin McAllister reminded everyone that protecting local waterways from pollution is critical to the economic engine of the East End. Ken Dorph of the Friends of the Long Pond Greenbelt let everyone know that the group is pushing for better enforcement to the ban on motorized ATVs from the greenbelt’s hiking and biking trails. Some organizers simply told the story of their organization, like Nada Barry of the Sag Harbor Youth Committee, who recalled the genesis of her organization’s efforts to provide entertaining, enlightening and interesting activities for local teens after Christmas lights on village streets were smashed by vandals a decade ago.

“We hope this is a beginning,” Ms. Grosjean said. “The main mission of this was to get people to know each other, to come together, to see who all is out there.”

Ms. Grosjean might be encouraged to know there are plenty of others out there to appeal to. According to state tax exemption records, there are more than 80 not-for-profit organizations registered in Sag Harbor.

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