Even as the East Hampton Town Board was putting its stamp on the appeal for a federally funded initiative to rebuild the ocean beaches in Montauk, engineers from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had begun work on a new assessment of the possibilities for bolstering the narrow sandy barrier between the hamlet’s low-lying downtown and the Atlantic.
As part of the anticipated implementation of the $800 million coastal management plan known as the Fire Island to Montauk Point Reformulation Study, or FIMPS, the Army Corps has already begun revisiting all of the study’s recommendations and taking a fresh look at some areas that were particularly hard hit by Superstorm Sandy. That includes Montauk, where waves smashed into the foundations of hotels on the waterfront and seawater washed down side streets and into the business district.
U.S. Representative Tim Bishop, who has made a top priority of securing the Army Corps’s help with a major effort to bolster Montauk’s beaches, said that he expects the corps will make a decision on what treatment Montauk’s coastline will receive within a matter of weeks, though the actual time frame for a large-scale project has too many factors to even begin estimating, he said. He said he expects the Corps to ultimately undertake a major coastline engineering project, fully funded by the federal government, possibly with a small-scale interim effort as the main project is being designed.
“I have made it clear that this is a must-have, that we simply must replenish the beach there,” Mr. Bishop said. “The Army Corps has indicated to me that they are working in that direction, and I do believe that we are not too far away. There may be an interim project and then a larger project when it’s possible. The corps is still, in their view, designing the project. But we’re talking about a matter of weeks, not months.”
With the damage from Sandy and the $5.3 billion in federal funding that the Army Corps received from Congress for coastal projects in the regions hardest hit by the storm, the possibilities for a major reconstruction of Montauk’s beaches is being cast in a new light. Before the storm hit, Montauk’s anemic beaches had not been high on the Army Corps list of needs, considering the tenuous funding possibilities for FIMPS. The federally approved version of the study referenced only a relatively small-scale beach management plan, and Army Corps experts were decidedly cool on the prospects of the work getting funded, largely because they did not see a substantial threat to a sizable population that justified the multimillion-dollar cost of such a project.
But with foundations battered and exposed in the wake of Sandy, and FIMPS now expected to get close to the nearly $800 million that would represent full funding, Army Corps officials said they are now looking at a number of possibilities, including a large-scale beach reconstruction.
“Some of the preliminary work of the FIMPS indicated that the Montauk segment, because of its isolated nature and the lack of sand supply, was reaching the limits of the cost benefit analysis,” ACOE Regional Director Joe Vietri said this week. “But we’re looking at the project fresh. After Sandy and the Sandy supplemental [congressional funding] bill, some of the accounting has changed.”
Mr. Vietri said he could not guess how soon the Army Corps will be done with its new assessments of the various reaches of coastline that will be addressed by FIMPS, but he said the agency’s goal is to have a draft impact statement ready for state approval by next winter.
Despite the large funding allowance likely headed for eastern Long Island, the lion’s share of that money, some 70 percent, is earmarked for protecting residential areas, by elevating houses in floodplains and mounting them on stout pilings, and raising coastal roadways to reduce flooding. The Montauk project would have to “compete” with work in Hampton Bays and Fire Island, also seen as critical to protecting the mainland residential neighborhoods on the northern shores of Shinnecock Bay, Moriches Bay and Great South Bay. But the dire state of Montauk’s beaches in the wake of Sandy erased a lot of doubts about the need for a major effort.
“Twenty percent of the funding is tied to selected fill projects in highly vulnerable areas, of which Montauk is now one,” Mr. Vietri said. “For the Army Corps, it’s not so much about providing beaches, it’s about protecting vulnerable populations—and Montauk certainly fits that criteria.”
Montauk’s coastline poses a number of challenges to the goal of protecting the downtown area, the Army Corps has said. The shape of the shoreline makes building a broad sandy stretch of beach hundreds of feet wide impossible. The use of a reinforced dune, with a rock revetment of large sandbags buried beneath sand, is a consideration but would leave very little territory between the dune and the waterline.
The fact that the “lenses” of sand that feed sand onto the coastline of Long Island are several miles farther offshore at Montauk than they are along the rest of the South Shore means that any sand nourishment effort will be more time consuming and expensive. Mr. Vietri said the possibility of trucking in sand to Montauk is even a consideration to be looked at.
“It presents some very unique challenges,” he said. “But that does not diminish that there is a great potential for damage there.”