EAST HAMPTON, L.I. — A water shortage is stirring up a Hamptons mystery.
A leak at Georgica Pond here, home to the likes of Ron Perelman, Steven Spielberg and Martha Stewart, is disrupting the peak holiday season and has everyone gossiping about who could have done it.
The draining deed dates from the early hours of July 2, when a gut — a trench leading from the pond to the ocean — mysteriously appeared, allowing water to flow across the narrow beach. Within a few hours, Georgica Pond was reportedly 3 feet lower, leaving boats high and dry. The pond is usually drained twice yearly by man, but not prior to the July 4 weekend, when there is a large sailboat regatta and heavy traffic of rented canoes and kayaks.
Following the disappearing water, a media frenzy ensued — a local newspaper was informed of the goings-on even before the authorities — and The New York Times reported on the incident. The media remains on the trail — magazines such as Vanity Fair and The New Yorker are said to be working on stories about the drainage.
“It’s really taken on a life of its own, this whole thing,” said Mike Tracey, lieutenant of the East Hampton Village police.
The main summer activity has been trying to figure out who —or what — is responsible.
“It was let out by man, I’m pretty sure,” said one person familiar with the pond, echoing the sentiments of many.
“The selfishness of a few serving their personal interests has ruined the summer for literally hundreds of people,” said Byron Wien, who has a house on Georgica Pond.
So what could the motives be? The heavy rainfall this summer caused the flooding of basements, lawns and the backup of septic tanks in some houses on the pond.
“Labels were floating off bottles in wine cellars,” said one East Hampton resident, tongue-in-cheek.
“The logical profile of the perpetrator would be someone who has the problems of flooding and/or security, and who doesn’t sail, which would narrow the list of possible suspects to very few,” said one Georgica Pond homeowner.In fact, fingers have been pointed at only three people — two pond-side residents who, just prior to July 2, asked for the pond to be let out to alleviate flooding problems in their homes, and Perelman, who reportedly has a history of security concerns over public access to the pond.
But Perelman, majority owner of Revlon Cosmetics, on Thursday proclaimed his innocence. In a letter published in The East Hampton Star, he cited “industrious imaginations,” adding, “I can tell you that whoever done it, it wasn’t me.”
Others maintain Mother Nature is the real culprit (and how do you question her?).
“The first thing I would say is, how do [people] know it wasn’t done by nature?” Tracey asked. He pointed to the summer of 1998 when the then President Clinton visited Spielberg and the pond drained. Rumor-mongers blamed the Secret Service, but Tracy said there was no foul play.
Whatever the cause this time round, Georgica Pond life has suffered. Traditional weekend sailing regattas have been canceled and kayak and canoe renting has been nixed.
“Literally, no one can do anything on the pond,” said Lars Svanberg, owner of Main Beach, a sports store catering to water activities, including boat rentals, which is located across from one of Georgica Pond’s three public accesses.
His revenue from the pond activities has gone “from some business to no business,” though he continues to take advantage of other local watercourses, such as Sagg Pond.
Trustees of the Town of East Hampton are concerned enough to be offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to an arrest, while the Department of Environmental Conservation, which now has jurisdiction over the case, continues its investigation. Fines running to $13,000 a day starting July 2 could also be levied against perps, a penalty that already exceeds half-a-million dollars and counting.
Now all the authorities have to figure out is how to trace missing water.
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