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Oyster Festival Flooding Leaves Nonprofits With Decisions to Make

The nor’easter on Saturday evening, Oct. 17 through Sunday, Oct. 18 was compounded with a new moon and a high tide in Oyster Bay harbor that hit at noon on Sunday, making flooding a major concern for the hamlet and challenging the Oyster Festival.

“The nor’easter effectively made a washout of the festival on Sunday,” said Gregory Druhak who was walking around the festival a little after the Sunday high tide, taking pictures. “I saw a guy standing in the Southwest Airlines booth. I had gone there to pick up T-shirts for a couple of people from Dave at the Frank M. Flower booth. The money all goes to the Celia Flower Food Pantry. Nearby there was a guy at the Southwest Airlines booth, Xavier Granico smiling and giving out pretzels. He drove all the way from Baltimore, to be at the booth. On the other side, the baymen (in tall boots) were standing totally in water, selling clams.

 

“I took pictures after high tide. In one you see the Christeen rolling in the waves. Waves are something we don’t see in the harbor. You had to climb up the ladder to get to the floats, about 8 to 10 feet up. Amazing. You usually walk down the ramps to the floats.

“Bev Zembko was there and selling lobster bisque. Over the loudspeaker, there was a still voice saying welcome and that a raffle would be held.”

Mr. Druhak also took the photograph of the flooded OB-EN Soccer club booths on Sunday. Sharon Tiberio asked for a copy of the photo for their newsletter. She said, “It was a brutal Oyster Festival for us and I’m sure for the whole community.” It has been their major fundraiser for over 25 years. In November the board will be meeting and will discuss how they will handle the financial short fall. The club today runs all year-round so scheduling a fundraiser will be a challenge for the parents. Ms. Tiberio said they were also concerned with the number of groups that will also be seeking funds from the community.

Waterlogged

Coming off the LIRR station at about 11 a.m. on Saturday, Locust Valley resident Peter Nyquist and his wife Jane had to walk to the east end of the platform because the stairways closer to the festival led into flood waters. They headed to their favorite booth, the Mill Neck Rod and Gun Club for fried oysters, enjoyed the soft shell crabs and the scallops. By the 1 p.m. train from Locust Valley, the water had subsided and the yellow tape was removed from the stairway and people could use the exit nearest the festival.

Many of the nonprofits looked out at the rain on Sunday and phoned their troops telling them to stay at home. Oyster Festival volunteer Betty Tiska arrived at the WaterFront Center at 8:30 a.m., Sunday, where Executive Director David Waldo decided to cancel their involvement in the festival. Ms. Tiska said, “The Sagamore Rowing Association tent had blown down. David said to get ours down before the wind took them. I called people and told them not to come. Hank walked into the food court at noon and saw the baymen selling clams. They had two booths; the one selling lobster dinner for the Mathew Fetzer Foundation did well on Saturday but didn’t open on Sunday. They didn’t have to pick up their Sunday order of lobsters and so they decided not to. But all in all, they sold out on Saturday and were supporting two funds.”

Beverly Zemko, Oyster Festival Food Court co-chair said, “ Everyone is coping with the mess it was. Only four groups opened on Sunday and they did do so because they wanted to sell whatever they could sell, and we did have people who came off the train. We sent them to the open groups, the North Oyster Bay Baymen’s Association; the LI Hellcats, the Oyster Bay softball traveling team; and the Rotary Mill Creek Tavern booth that was selling the lobster bisque on Sunday. They won the Whole Foods contest as the best of the food court.. They were going to stay open until they sold out. The Oyster Bay Railroad Museum booth was also open until the last minute.

“The Baymen are used to any kind of weather and they were well prepared, with their tall boots on,” said Ms. Zembko.

As far as changing the venue of the festival, she said they will discuss that in their follow-up meeting in November. She said, “We have had really great weather for the majority of time. But, everything is open to discussion sometime in November. Everyone needs a little rest. Everyone is recuperating after the festival.” As for her own group, the Oyster Bay Cooperative Playschool, she said, “We made some money, so we are going to look into another fundraiser. One of the fathers has a band, the Legendary Hooligans, and it’s billed as a NY premier classic rock band, and he has kindly offered his band for a fundraiser and we are going to take him up on it and have a dance. I am in talks with Gail Speranza (her food court co-chair and the Doubleday Babcock Senior Center executive director) to have an intergenerational dance, in keeping with our theme of intergenerational events. Gail is now in Florida, her rest from the fest. When she gets back, we are really going to plan. We need a pretty big venue, so, where do we hold it. Maybe a bigger venue than the senior center. I’m sure some of the nonprofits are thinking of other things to make up for the loss of the weekend.”

The Hispanic Cultural Center, (the CCH) was open on Saturday and Sunday said Aldolfo Cepeda. “We did half of last year, but something is better than nothing. We were one of about four open on Sunday. Wow, it took perserverence. We are fighting for the money that is really badly needed, especially in this economy. In all the years of holding the festival – it had to rain on everyone’s parade! But, we had a lot of volunteers coming down to help. They were motivated to help. They were socializing on Sunday. Everyone got to know each other.” That is another festival benefit. He said they wouldn’t try to make up the loss with another event this year saying philosophically, “We did the most we could.”

Fundraising

Oyster Bay Chamber of Commerce President Alex Gallego said Mark Fox and Kristen Reardon worked well together on the Audrey Avenue committee of the festival. The chamber ran a trim-the-town holiday party on Monday, Oct. 26. It began with cocktails at the Chase Edwards Gallery at 15 East Main Street followed by dinner at Wild Honey. It raises funding for the lighted snowflakes they trim the town with.

Friends of the Bay Acting Director Patricia Aitken was at the festival on Saturday and Sunday. FOB has experienced the agony of bad weather twice, as their barbecue was rained out. She said, “You can’t deny Mother Nature for any event that is held outdoors. On Sunday, people were coming to the festival – they were showing up with babies in strollers. What was important is that everybody pulled together in the face of the challenges.”

Serendipitously, FOB had a fundraiser on Friday evening, Oct. 16, before the festival, at the home of Mrs. Storrs. “I’m just so grateful and happy with the fundraiser. Everyone came, and Roger and Lori Bahnik stayed the whole night. He thought it was a great event. George and Abby O’Neill came for a while and we had people who don’t normally come out, as well as some new faces. I’m just thrilled to death.” Timing for FOB was perfect, and well deserved after having been pummeled by bad weather themselves. They understand the pressure; and in this exceptional community, they had the pleasure of a great event.

Festival Challenges

In November, the festival committee will be meeting and talking about Oyster Festival 2010 and the challenges it faces – and the community will be listening. Keeping the community on tenterhooks is the possibility of the Oyster Festival losing part of their food court venue to create a proposed multisport artificial turf playing field.

Interestingly, the Oyster Festival Regatta had been postponed and was held on Saturday, Oct. 24. Oyster Bay Chamber of Commerce President Alex Gallego sponsored one of the boats and took part in the race along with his son, Kieran Shea of The Baykery and Frank Tortoro, Esq. He said being on the water gave him a different perspective about the Theodore Roosevelt Park and the waterfront area. While he said the chamber’s position on the proposed field at TR Park was “we’re not going to put our children second,” he added, “We have to look at this area again because of the flooding. It should be what is best for the community. Everything has to be looked at – while we realize these kids are playing on inferior [and insufficient] fields,” he said, “We are so lucky having the WaterFront Center here. That is what the whole park should look like. The festival showed us that the park and the whole area should be preserved and I think we should look at new solutions for the needed athletic fields. Let’s be smart about it. Using TR Park gets the pressure off government to find a site, but are we realizing this is not the right decision? It looks and feels like it is the right decision but the reality is – we think it is not.”

The challenges are many, and time will reveal the answers for this always exciting, alive and vibrant community.