By Danny Schrafel
A pair of boats that sank west of Bird Island in Northport Harbor over the winter has a Centerport resident demanding action from the Huntington Town Board.
In an April 6 letter to the Huntington Town Board, Centerport’s Kenneth Cooperstein said that an approximately 30-foot cabin cruiser sank in mid December. The second, an approximately 40-foot long red sailboat, began listing in January.
Cooperstein, an attorney and 40-year boater, said he left a message at the Harbormaster’s office Jan. 14, but did not receive a call back. The red boat remained until mid-March, when it also sank, he said.
Those vessels, Cooperstein said, are unmarked in the harbor, which he argues creates a navigation risk and imperils those who use the water. The water in the area is around 10 feet deep at low tide, and the only visual clue in the case of the cabin cruiser, he said, is a series of booms placed in the water to capture any oil that leaks.
Cooperstein argues the town has a legal obligation to mark the wrecks.
“Somebody could drop an anchor… dive off, get caught in the rigging and die,” he said.
In an April 15 response letter, Edward Carr, the town’s director of maritime services, acknowledged that the town had received “several calls” regarding the sunken vessels, but could not address them because the harbor was frozen at the time.
“We are currently going through the proper legal process with the owners to have the vessels removed,” Carr wrote.
That includes notifying the owner, issuing a summons, and following up in court to force the vessel’s removal. If that doesn’t work, the town will remove it and sue the owner for costs.
Town spokesman A.J. Carter said the town is working with the owner of the sailboat, the southernmost vessel, and that it should be removed within a week.
The cabin cruiser, though, is “a little more problematic,” Carter said.
“The owner passed away upstate and has no known relatives… We’re looking to see what steps can be taken so the town can take the boats out,” Carter said.
Cooperstein argued the town should change its practices so that those who apply for a mooring should pay a deposit up front so that, if a vessel sinks or is otherwise abandoned, funds are there to address it without tapping taxpayers.
“The Town’s reliance of the duty of the boat owner is imprudent,” Cooperstein said. “First, it is neglected or abandoned boats that usually sink. Such boats are usually not insured. Second, there is no assurance that the owner has sufficient insurance or is capable of paying a judgment for personal injury.”
Should a tragedy occur, he argued, taxpayers would be in part on the hook because each owns a share in the bottom of the harbor.
"Under various pre-Revolutionary war patents, the bottom of these harbors was given to the freeholders of Huntington...in due course, the landowners appointed a board of trustees to manage them," he said.