As federal emergency funding begins to flow to the various outlets helping the Northeast recover from Hurricane Sandy, New York lawmakers are hopeful that hundreds of millions of dollars will be directed toward a long awaited plan to restore and protect Eastern Long Island’s coastline. The plan could mean extensive rebuilding of the beaches that separate downtown Montauk from the sea.
U.S. Representative Tim Bishop and Senator Charles Schumer’s office confirmed this week that funding for the Fire Island to Montauk Point Reformulation Study, or FIMPS, a 50-year assessment of shoreline conditions along 80 miles of coastline, is in position to receive as much as $750 million in federal funds from the Army Corps of Engineers.
The vast majority of the projects suggested in the sprawling document, which was finally completed—mostly—in 2010, are for work well to the west: in western Southampton Town and along the Fire Island National Seashore. But the federal engineers who spent decades drafting the study did suggest that a large beach nourishment project is needed for the emaciated crescent-shaped beachfront along Montauk’s hamlet center. In initial discussions of the study in 2010, Army Corps staff had suggested that the Montauk project was too costly, with not enough economic benefit or protection of public lands, to be cost effective. But in the wake of Sandy, local officials and Congressman Bishop have put a full court press on to have the project funded and made one of the top priorities of the recovery effort.
“I’ve been pressing to make sure there is beach nourishment in the area of downtown Montauk,” Congressman Bishop said on Tuesday. “I have had multiple conversations with the Corps since Sandy hit and I have told them that this is simply a must-have.”
Congressman Bishop said that if the FIMP study does receive the full $750 million in funding it is slated to receive, the Montauk project, as well as funding for beach repairs in Bridgehampton, will stand a “good chance” of being funded and undertaken by the Army Corps. There will still have to be considerable advocacy and support for each individual project, he said, but Montauk will be among those he says he will insist be done.
In the wake of Sandy, downtown Montauk was left with essentially no natural protection from the sea. The owners of the hotels that line the beachfront resorted to burying giant concrete septic rings beneath tons of sand along the foundations of their buildings—a step that was decried by some as counterproductive to combating erosion along the shoreline, and illegal. There has been talk in the hamlet of creating special taxing districts for the waterfront to help fund a large-scale beach rebuilding project, as was done in Sagaponack and Bridgehampton, but thus far the idea has not gained substantial support.
In December, East Hampton town submitted a request to the Army Corps and Federal Emergency Management Agency requesting that 2.3 miles of beach, from Ditch Plains to Hither Hills, be restored to a profile and height that would provide protection to the hotels and low-lying commercial district behind Montauk’s dunes. The town estimated the cost of the work at $20 million.
“Initially the Army Corps was challenging us on the return on investment,” East Hampton Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson said. “But it has become clear that not only is the package for Montauk a loss of assets, but for every dollar spent in a hotel here, there is $7 spent elsewhere. The true impact of losing those hotels that border the ocean would be horrendous, for Montauk and for Eastern Long Island.”
The tentative version of the FIMP study included discussion of a similar proposal as well as the possible establishment of a “feeder beach”—a stockpile of sand in one area that would feed sand into the natural flow, not helping bolster beaches but halting or at least slowing the rate of their erosion.
Montauk’s beaches have steadily vanished over the last three decades, a pattern that many blame on the construction of a small jetty at Ditch Plains beach, which redirects sand naturally flowing west in the surf to offshore sandbars—sparking the area’s famous surfing but starving the beaches a mile away of sand.
Out of the $60 billion overall federal emergency package from Sandy, the Army Corps of Engineers received about $5.4 billion for coastline rebuilding in New York and New Jersey.