The Sag Harbor Village Board agreed on Tuesday evening to assume ownership of Long Wharf, the iconic pier at the end of the village’s Main Street, from Suffolk County.
The resolution was met with more skepticism and lament than celebration, as the transfer will mean that the village will soon be responsible for needed repairs and future maintenance of the pier, which could cost the village hundreds of thousands of dollars.
In the end, the board voted unanimously to buy the wharf from the county for $1, albeit with a grudging vote from board member Tim Culver. He had been in favor of waiting to see if the county would follow through on threats to abandon the steel-and-concrete wharf, which it recently spent more than $1 million reinforcing.
“If we don’t have to buy it, I don’t want to buy it,” Mr. Culver said. “Don’t we owe it to ourselves to do a little research? What are they going to do, sell it to the highest bidder?”
That is exactly what some Suffolk County officials had threatened to do: put the wharf on the market, raising the specter of a private buyer turning the village’s centerpiece waterfront attraction into a development.
Village Attorney Fred Thiele, who is a state assemblyman, dismissed that idea with a guffaw during Tuesday’s meeting of the Village Board, noting that the pier is technically a county roadway and could not be sold to anyone, least of all a private entity. Mr. Thiele said the county could not even abandon the wharf and block it off from auto and pedestrian traffic, another possibility that had been floated from within the halls of the county offices.
“The ball is in our court—it’s not going to go anywhere unless we do this,” Mr. Culver added. “It might be interesting to see what the county does.”
Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman told board members that, regardless of the county’s future plans for the wharf, it was highly unlikely that the County Legislature, which is made up of mostly western Suffolk representatives, was going to be willing to sink more money into its maintenance.
“I would like to see the county maintain it, but that ain’t happening,” said Mr. Schneiderman, one of just two county legislators from the East End. “If you said, ‘We’re not going to do this,’ I think it would be extremely difficult to get any money from the county for maintenance.
“What does that mean?” he continued. “At the very least, I think you’re going to see an effort to take the revenues.”
The village currently reaps the benefits of the boat dockage that the wharf does provide, which totaled about $90,000 in 2010, though Sag Harbor Mayor Brian Gilbride said revenues that high were an anomaly. The mayor has said he thinks if the village were responsible for the wharf, it would cost about $100,000 a year to maintain. A county study conducted last fall said the wharf is in need of about $600,000 in improvements, about $300,000 of which is needed in the next five years. Mr. Gilbride has proposed that the village start a reserve fund just for wharf maintenance, and seed it with $100,000 a year.
“To the county, that’s not a lot of money,” Mr. Gilbride said of the annual expense. “To us, it’s a significant amount.”
But the mayor also said he was not willing to take a chance on the county finding a legal path to unload the wharf, a move that could result in the village losing control over it. “I’m not going to be the mayor who lost Long Wharf,” he said. “That isn’t happening on my watch.”