After receiving complaints about newly reconstructed seawalls in Southampton Village, the State Department of Environmental Conservation this month asked the village’s Building Department to hold off on issuing any more permits along a key section of beach while it investigates the conditions under which permits were given just after Hurricane Sandy ravaged the coast.
Group for the East End President Bob DeLuca, wanting to protect the coastline from the domino effect bulkheads can have in changing the beach profile and encouraging erosion, said on Tuesday that he would like the DEC to actually suspend the village’s ability to issue permits in the Coastal Erosion Hazard Area along the beach until village officials have a formal, comprehensive coastal erosion management plan. He also said the permits that were given out in reaction to “every individual crisis” after Hurricane Sandy should be revoked.
“I don’t think these structures are being well planned out, and I’m not sure the village even understood the ramifications of approving them,” he said. “The prospect of every homeowner personally designing a bulkhead to manage coastal erosion is ridiculous.”
The Group for the East End is a non-profit organization that works to protect and restore the natural environment through education, citizen action and public advocacy.
In recent months, Southampton Village homeowners have taken heat for constructing steel and stone seawalls to protect their oceanfront homes in the wake of last fall’s hurricane and subsequent erosion. The projects, which were allowed as post-storm emergency measures, skirted regional public policies that generally forbid new hard structures on the beach, although existing structures can be replaced.
Southampton Village Mayor Mark Epley said, however, that all nine CEHA permits that were given out were approved by the DEC.
“Every permit issued was a permit for an existing bulkhead that was damaged by the hurricane and the nor’easters and was issued in accordance and with guidance from the DEC,” he said. “We issued building permits based upon plans submitted to the DEC and signed off by the DEC.”
The DEC’s investigation is not only in reaction to complaints it received about new, tall steel walls that replaced older ones, but is also a reevaluation of the DEC’s own permitting process, according to the mayor.
“There were so many permits that went in to the DEC across Long Island that it was overwhelming to their office,” he said. While he declined to comment on Mr. DeLuca’s call for a CEHA permit suspension, he did say that Mr. DeLuca doesn’t understand that the permits were approved by the DEC, and said that he “completely agrees” that a coastal management plan needs to be formed.
“The plan can’t be just for the Village of Southampton—from Montauk all the way into the city, we all have to get on the same page,” he said. “We’ve got to go to the Army Corps of Engineers and get support from our congressmen and put a game plan in place. I don’t think it’s right for the Village of Southampton to just look at the Village of Southampton.”
Mr. DeLuca said the village should have a level of technical competence to run their own program and should have been able to evaluate compliance instead of still readily issuing permits for CEHA structures. In the past, the DEC has revoked some villages’ power to issue permits along the beach, including Quogue Village, which recently had that power restored by the DEC.
Despite those claims, the mayor said the DEC approved the projects and the village made sure everything was in compliance with the DEC.
“I feel pretty confident about the work that was done down there,” he said. “I know a couple of property owners in that area where there is no bulkheading, and they want to bulkhead their properties. I’m 100-percent in support of them, because they’re surrounded by bulkheads.”
Bill Fonda, regional spokesman for the DEC, referred questions to the department’s headquarters in Albany, which did not respond to requests for comment.