The Southampton Town Board this week took what are essentially the final steps in approving a mammoth, mostly privately funded sand nourishment project along 6 miles of ocean beaches between Water Mill and Sagaponack set to take place late this summer and into the fall.
Pending the final approvals, the project is expected to get under way shortly after Labor Day.
The Town Board unanimously approved an approximately $19 million bid for the project by an Illinois dredging company on Tuesday evening—a price low enough that the project designers say will allow them to increase the total amount of sand that will be pumped onto the beaches by more than 15 percent, essentially making up for what was lost during Hurricane Sandy, and still not exceed the $25 million earmarked for the work.
“Based on our calculations, it leaves enough money for an additional 445,000 cubic yards of sand,” said Aram Terchunian, whose Westhampton Beach coastal engineering company, First Coastal Corporation, has been the local liaison on the design of the beach construction project. “That means another 15 to 16 feet of width to the beach, which is pretty substantial. This will allow us to build a very robust beach profile.”
Mr. Terchunian said the formula used by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers shows that the stretch of coast targeted for the nourishment lost between 450,000 and 500,000 cubic yards of sand during Hurricane Sandy. He acknowledged that other formulas used by the Federal Emergency Management Agency put the amount lost at closer to 900,000 cubic yards.
The additional sand would push the total amount pumped onto beaches up to nearly four million tons. The specifications of the bids call for 2.1 million cubic yards of sand—about three million tons—but the specifications for the project in federal permit applications allow for a little more than 2.6 million cubic yards to be drawn from three “borrow areas” on the sea floor located about a mile offshore. Some 7 feet of sand will be sucked from some of those areas by a hydraulic dredge, essentially a giant vacuum, and pumped ashore through a system of pipes.
The dredging will be done by Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Company, which has done most of the large-scale dredging and beach nourishment projects on the East End in recent years. The company bid between $19.1 million and $19.4 million for the 2.1 million-cubic-yard project minimum, or $7.65 per cubic yard, though there are also mobilization costs and other expenses that must be factored in. The company would then charge $6.65 per additional cubic yard of sand it pumps onto the beaches.
“We’re very happy that it appears we’ll be able to add some additional sand based on this bid,” Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said last week after the bids were opened. “We’re going to finalize the permits, and once the contract is in place, we get started on the bonds, and then we’re pretty much ready to roll. So it looks like we’re going to be on track to get started the first week of September.”
Property owners in the two special taxing districts created by oceanfront residents specifically to allow for the planning of a beach nourishment project voted in February to allow the town to borrow some $25 million on their behalf to fund the work, and tax them so they pay off the loans over the next 10 years. The town has also pledged $1.5 million toward the total cost of the project.
About $1 million of the total remaining cost will go to the planning and oversight by the project’s designers, Coastal Sciences Engineering, a North Carolina-based engineering company and Mr. Terchunian’s firm.
Also on Tuesday, the Town Board approved amendments to the resolutions that originally proposed the project to allow for two property owners to be exempt from the hefty 10-year tax burden that is going to pay for the work. The White family of Sagaponack and the Bridgehampton Club were both freed from what would have been hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes paid to their respective erosion control districts over the life of the construction bonds. The two were exempted because they have removed the development rights from their properties—the Whites through sale to the town, the club through a donation to the Peconic Land Trust.