Hempstead Town board members last week passed new regulations on houseboats in an effort to cut down on illegal discharge into local harbors and canals.
Under the regulations, violations carry up to a $1,000 fine for illegal sewage discharge from houseboats and seaplanes. Boat owners can now be fined daily for repeat violations.
The board voted 6-0, with Councilwoman Erin King Sweeney abstaining, to approve four resolutions for new fines. The fines apply to boats and seaplanes, houseboats and floating homes — structures in waterways that may not follow town codes and harm public wetlands.
King Sweeney said she abstained because she works as an aviation attorney and did not want to vote on any resolution applying to planes that could be construed as a conflict of interest.
“One of the primary goals of this legislation is to eliminate the scourge of illegal discharge of untreated sewage into the waterways,” Hempstead Town spokesman Mike Deery said.
Town officials said previous fines, set more than 50 years ago, started at about $100 and might increase to $250 after a 15-day review and a court appearance to determine if the structure involved was a lived-in vessel or a primary residence.
Under the prior fine schedule, the resulting fine was usually less than an average rent or mortgage for someone living on a boat without sewer hookups. The new laws would allow the town to create daily fines for a new violation.
“A small fine at the end of several months could come as the cost of doing business for some of these houseboat owners and there was no deterrence factor,” Bay Constable Sgt. Matt Sohm said.
Bay constables look for boats not connected to electrical or sewage hookups or are operating in areas that may not have sewage connection systems.
The discharge of sewage and other materials has been faulted for the closure of several beaches or waterways due to high bacteria levels. The town has said some waters have not been safe for fishing or swimming.
“It doesn’t take more than a few flushes of untreated sewage to close a clamming bed,” Deery said.
“The new fines will allow us to fully inspect each one, and if not, put them in court. It is far more costly to not comply at this point,” Sohm said. “Now the boat owners might think twice about it and maybe will comply.”
The town was criticized several years ago for not more strictly enforcing houseboat regulations. Town officials cracked down about five years ago on pollution based on existing houseboat laws and residency requirements. Those regulations were not seen to be tough enough.
Houseboats have been found to be in violation in some areas of Seaford and Freeport, town officials said.
Town officials said the new fines can be administered immediately. Houseboat owners have not been expressly notified of the new fine schedule, but officials said boaters should be aware of discharge restrictions.