Local powerboat-racing enthusiasts — whose annual Battle on the Bay event was sunk last year — are looking to make a comeback this summer off the beach at Smith Point County Park, moving the races from Great South Bay to the ocean.
A legislative resolution allowing Great South Bay Racing Inc. to use county facilities at Suffolk's largest oceanfront beach on Aug. 24 and 25 was approved Wednesday by the parks committee. It could come up for a full county legislature vote as soon as Tuesday.
Parks Commissioner Gregory Dawson said he endorses the proposal allowing the group to use part of the 5,000-space parking lot to display boats on the eve of the races and to launch boats from the county's boat ramp at Smith Point Marina at the south end of William Floyd Parkway. The group also plans to display boats in downtown Mastic Beach on the Friday night before the weekend starts. The group is putting up a $12,000 bond to cover any county costs.
While the county park and marina would be used as a staging area, the boats, which can hit speeds up to 150 mph, would race in a 4-mile rectangle, far enough from swimmers but near enough so beachgoers could watch, race officials said. Some 50 to 70 boats are expected to compete, they said, drawing up to 6,000 fans.
"I hope the county sees the value in this and sticks with us," said Louis Giancontieri, president of Great South Bay Racing. "This site is a perfect fit for what we do." He said he also expects to generate "a tremendous economic boost" locally — as much as $4 million to $5 million in extra business.
"It used to be you could take in a ballgame, but now you have to take a loan on your house," he said. "These races are free, it gets a high attendance and it's nice for the community and local business."
Last year's Battle on the Bay event hit rough waters when the U.S. Coast Guard initially rejected a permit bid to hold the event in West Sayville. The group tried to correct problems by moving to Bay Shore, but the approach of Tropical Storm Irene forced the cancellation.
Before that, Great South Bay Racing held its races for five summers in Patchogue, until it grew too big, jamming the southern part of the village. "They did a nice job with it, it just became too congested," Mayor Paul Pontieri said.
The races also suffered a major accident in 2008, when a boat flipped over on a turn, killing two men aboard.
Legis. Kate Browning (WF-Shirley) emphasized her resolution, if approved, "does not guarantee anything," noting organizers still must comply with Coast Guard rules and parks department edicts. "We're giving it a shot this year," she said. "If it turns out good, fine. But if it turns out there are problems, we won't do it again."