Jury selection began Monday in the case of a lawsuit filed by Southampton Town and a Sagaponack homeowner over erosion blamed on the groins at Georgica Beach.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit—Sagaponack homeowner Cynthia Ireland, Southampton Town and the Southampton Town Trustees—have accused Suffolk County of causing the disastrous erosion that has befallen the oceanfront between Georgica and Bridgehampton in recent decades by placing the three stone groins at Georgica. They also claim the county is responsible for erosion in Hampton Bays and East Quogue thanks to the jetties bordering Shinnecock Inlet.
The trial, delayed by two years of legal wrangling, is being heard by Federal District Judge Brian M. Cogan in Brooklyn.
The lawsuit demands that the county and the federal Army Corps of Engineers, who are the co-defendants, rebuild the once broad beaches along a more than 6-mile stretch of oceanfront in easternmost Southampton Town and fix or remove the “Georgica jetties” so the walls of giant granite boulders protruding from the sand don’t continue to interfere with sand flowing naturally westward along the shoreline.
The county has denied that the groins or the Shinnecock Inlet jetties have cause the erosion and officials say the county is not responsible for the anticipated costs—estimated in the tens of millions of dollars—to rebuild the beaches.
The Army Corps funded a massive beach nourishment project in Hampton Bays and East Quogue in 2005.
The trial is likely to focus largely on the decision in the late 1950s and 1960s to build the isolated groins—there are three at Georgica Beach and a fourth a mile east near Main Beach. The decision was reportedly pushed through by the county leadership against the advice of experts from both the Army Corps and the county’s own staff, at the behest of former Pan Am Airways chairman, and notorious power broker, Juan Trippe, who owned a home along the Georgica oceanfront. Some former county officials have said that engineers expressly warned that placing the groins at Georgica would cause beach erosion down-drift and could lead to lawsuits from homeowners.
In 1994, the village of West Hampton Dunes won a strikingly similar lawsuit against the county blaming groins built in Westhampton in the 1950s for erosion that led to the destruction of more than 100 homes there. The county was ordered to restore the decimated miles of beach and alter the 15 groins to the east at an estimated cost of some $90 million.
To reduce the impact of the groins in Westhampton, several of them were shortened and covered with sand so that they no longer protruded into the ocean.