BALANCING SALT AND FRESH WATER
Georgica Pond Sets the Standard
If you are driving from The City to East Hampton Village or points farther east, you probably share the feeling with many others of “we are almost there!” when you reach the traffic light on Montauk Highway in Wainscott. But that’s not all there is to Wainscott. The low profile, South of the Highway, hamlet has traditionally, and purposely, remained low key and, as much as possible, out of the limelight, despite being home to A-list celebrities and leaders of industry. Recent local breaking news stories have changed all that. South Fork Wind Farm’s proposal to bury a substantial cable under bucolic Beach Lane, Wainscott’s only public access to the Ocean beach, and the debate about Wainscott’s becoming its own Village are common front-page news.
Beyond business and politics is a more pressing issue, one that affects the way of life for many in the hamlet…maintaining and protecting 290-acre Georgica Pond and the local 4,000-acre watershed for the good of future generations and their water quality. According to recent studies, years of careful planning and scientific study have made Georgica Pond a success story to be admired.
In the late 1800’s, banker and publisher William H. S. Wood purchased about 140 acres on the west side of Georgica Pond, which he sold to a select group of friends, creating The Settlement (later The Georgica Association). His purpose was to insure a peaceful lifestyle and the continuing enjoyment of the Pond for swimming, boating, fishing, shell fishing and more. Residents of the east side of the Pond followed suit in later years, joining in the effort to control and maintain the status quo.
As home building increased along the shores of Georgica Pond (today about 76 homes), so did the resulting nitrogen output of traditional septic systems into the water, creating ideal conditions for the growth of harmful algae blooms, and so severely limiting water activities. One of the 76 homeowners, whose Pond-front home has been, like many, in her family for generations is Annie Gilchrist Hall. Tragically in 2012 Annie’s beloved Jack Russell Terrier Rosie drank from Georgica Pond which, at the time, had super high nitrogen and phosphorous levels, and immediately went into neurotoxic shock, collapsed and passed away. Being a person of action, in 2015 she partnered with her friend Priscilla Rattazzi Whittle, a fellow Pond-front homeowner, and sent out a plea for donations to save the Pond, within weeks raising over $360,000. Soon after, Friends of Georgica Pond Foundation was born, with Priscilla as President, and Annie as Vice-President. One of the first orders of business was to ask Professor Christopher Gobler of the Stony Brook University School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences to study the Pond and recommend a long-term plan. Dr. Gobler, with the support of the East Hampton Town Trustees, including Deputy Clerk and Pond Committee Chair Jim Grimes, recommended a plan which included convincing residents to upgrade their septic systems to drastically reduce nitrogen levels, and regular openings of the Georgica Gut, the channel that connects The Pond with the Atlantic Ocean. The “Spring Cut” in mid to late March, and the “Autumn Cut” in mid-October allow the Ocean’s salt water to flow in, thereby moderating overgrowing plant density and algae levels, since they don’t do well in high levels of salination.
F.O.G.P.F. Executive Director Sara Davison leads the campaign for residents to modernize their septic systems. She reports that she has had some hurdles to overcome: the inertia in human nature, some not wanting to upset their carefully designed landscape, and the perceived costs involved. Suffolk County, New York State and the Town of East Hampton have respectively offered $10,000, $10,000 and $20,000 to help defray most of the expense incurred. Additional efforts are being made to limit the use of fertilizers by homeowners and farmers in the area.
Let us hope that others take example from the valuable proactive work at Georgica Pond. Our environment will benefit immensely.