August 16, 2006

Celebrate Tiana Bay Beach Project

They hope to "gussie it up" a little more, with plantings and perhaps wooden benches. But last week, on a balmy day boasting azure skies and a healthy breeze, Southampton Town officials met to celebrate the near completion of the three-year Tiana Bay Beach recreational facility.

The weather was a mite too windy to draw many beachgoers last Friday. Still, on the west side of the new site, young students prepared for lessons and on the east side, a lone swimmer made his way through a lesson held in a "swim crib."

The cribs are just one of the myriad improvements to the Tiana Bay Beach site. A crumbling bulkhead, almost 1500 feet worth, installed by the county years ago, was the first to go. The beachfront was restored using environmentally-friendly shore hardening structures that go by the name of gabions. The result? A rare bay bathing beach for Southampton Town residents.

Removal of CCA wood structures was another priority. Now, the two new piers that extend into the water are composed of Trex, an admittedly more expensive material. But, according to town superintendent of parks and recreation Allyn Jackson, who has shepherded the project, the material used for the new piers, as well as sections of boardwalk, "will last forever." No peeling, no painting, and —a huge plus for moms — no splinters stuck in little feet.

The piers are attached by floating docks that bobbed in the chop on Friday. For free, boaters can tie up their skiffs and enjoy the bay or walk across Dune Road to the ocean. To make that aspect of the facility most user-friendly, the town set a limit on the size of craft that can tie up. The size restriction eliminates the concern that larger boats may discharge waste into the bay. Touring the site, Supervisor Skip Heaney noted that town trustees promoted the measure as a means to ensure protection of nearby shellfish beds.

Councilwoman Linda Kabot, who serves as the town board's liaison for parks and recreation, reminded that several years ago, a large-scale marina was envisioned at the site. With trustee input, the board switched gears and created the bathing beach in an area Kabot said once "looked like a third world country."

The infrastructure at Tiana Bay was long neglected despite its heavy recreational use, Kabot recounted. According to Sundy Schermeyer of the parks department, the town runs close to 50 different programs, such as swimming, sailing and windsurfing lessons, during the summer months.

In addition to docking and the boardwalk, the eastern portion of the site boasts a miniature pavilion and picnic tables where parents can sit comfortably to watch their kids in the water. Improving a parking lot that can accommodate over 170 cars was a design challenge. Priority was given to ensuring minimal road runoff through the use of aesthetically unobtrusive drainage structures.

Councilman Steve Kenny extolled the project as "the start of a grander vision." Next up for the site is reclaiming a section of the parking area that back in the 70s saw asphalt paving right up to the waterline. Also on the horizon is the replacement of an old auxiliary police station. From there the vision broadens to encompass a host of ideas, including campgrounds and even an underwater scuba trail system. A recently awarded state grant may be used for continued improvements.

With a panoply of potential projects yet to be crystallized, for now, town officials reveled in the accomplishments to date. Supervisor Heaney predicted "gussying up" the site with additional plantings. Kabot would like to see them donated by residents through the town's program. Individuals can underwrite the cost of memorial benches as well.

So far, the transformation of Tiana Bay Beach has carried a price tag of just over $2 million.

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