Homeowners propose revetment on Gerard Drive in Springs

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Two Gerard Drive homeowners want to build a stone revetment along the narrow strip of marsh and sand where they live to protect their houses from erosion.

The revetment, a 260-foot line of quarry stones that would be laid along the beach on the north side of Gerard Drive in Springs, would effectively extend a wall of rocks that was built by the town in the 1990s to protect the roadway from erosion.

To win permission to build the stone barrier, the homeowners are asking the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals to set aside a rule that was recommended in the Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan adopted last year. It prohibits “shore hardening” structures at the property and the area to its south except in emergencies, when a variance would be required.

The application was filed by John Kim and Jodi Della Femina, who purchased their precariously situated house in 2006, and the Charczuk family, which has owned the neighboring house for more than 50 years.

The homeowners’ attorney, Richard Whalen, says a revetment will have to be constructed in the area one way or another: either by his clients, to protect their houses, or by the town, to protect the road after the houses are washed away by erosion.

“If this revetment is not built, the houses will eventually be destroyed by a storm,” he said. “The shoreline will quickly come back to the road and the town will have to protect the road by installing a revetment. Ours will be properly engineered, the town’s have always been ad-hoc, and we’ll pay for it, not the taxpayers.”

The stretch of Gerard Drive is known commonly as the “second causeway,” where a town-built culvert allows water to flow between Gardiners Bay and the north end of Accabonac Harbor, is lined with large stones placed there by the town in the early 1990s after erosion during a series of bad winter storms left the road in bad shape.

The town’s much celebrated LWRP, which outlined a series of code changes that would protect the town’s shoreline from erosion and development pressures, calls for designating most of the area north of the second causeway as eligible for the construction of protective structures, such as the proposed revetment. The majority of the shoreline in the area is already hardened by stone revetments or wooden bulkheads.

But starting at the Kim-Della Femina property line and extending south toward the Accabonac Harbor inlet, the LWRP recommends that hardening should not be allowed.

A subsequent town law banned such structures except in emergency situations.

When the LWRP was being drafted in 2006, several of the 23 homeowners who live south of the second causeway stridently opposed the area being included in the hardening prohibition because so much of the shoreline in the area is already hardened.

Shore hardening structures such as revetments and bulkheads have been shown to accelerate erosion on the properties that border them, according to some studies, and for causing the loss of natural beaches. No natural beach exists during most tides in front of any of the protective structures north of the second causeway. The beach and dunes to the south get steadily wider toward the inlet mouth, particularly where there are no
houses.

Mr. Whalen says that his clients face a dire emergency. The Kims’ house was mounted on pilings in 1986 as erosion washed away the land underneath it and now sits above the beach with only a small portion touching dry land. Because their house and the Charczuks’ house, both built in the 1950s, sit just a few feet from the roadway, there is no room to move the houses away from the advancing high water mark. Mr. Whalen said there are about half a dozen homes nearby that are threatened by erosion but that most of them have enough property to their south to move them away from the water.

In a report to the Appeals Board, town planner Brian Frank noted that Mr. Kim and Ms. Della Femina purchased their house just a couple years ago and must have been aware of its 
precarious position.

“The owners’ diligence in assessing the environmental conditions prior to purchase should be questioned,” Mr. Frank wrote in his assessment of the project.

Mr. Frank acknowledges the claim by the two homeowners that the existing bulkheads and revetments to their north are responsible for the erosion underneath their houses. He says about 1,600 feet of shoreline along the “fragile” Gerard Drive peninsula has been lost because of the existing structures. He notes that, consequently, the same sort of erosive effects could be expected to the south if the Kims and the Charczuks are permitted to build their planned revetment. Numerous reports have declared the Gerard Drive area unsuitable for development because of its vulnerability, he says.

The planner’s report suggests that the Charczuks could move their house back from the waterline and that the beach in the area could be bolstered with sand dredged from Accabonac Harbor, something the East Hampton Town Trustees are planning to do.

Mr. Whalen said the Charczuks have tried simply rebuilding the beach in front of their house twice, at great expense but little benefit. Both times the sand washed away in less than two weeks, he said.

At a December 2 meeting on the application, at which neighbors opposed the application, the Appeals Board indicated that it would probably require the homeowners to prepare an environmental impact statement under the guidelines of the State Environmental Quality Review Act.

The highly detailed accounting of the potential impacts of the project will be expensive and time consuming, Mr. Whalen said, taking several months to complete. He said the two homeowners have already spent more than $110,000 on the preparation of the revetment application and that constructing the revetment, if approved, would cost about $250,000.

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