East Hampton Town Chooses Ambitious Montauk Dredging Plan

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In an attempt to address safety and navigation issues at the Montauk Harbor inlet—the lifeline passageway for the hamlet’s fishing fleet—the East Hampton Town Board on Tuesday selected the most comprehensive of three options laid out by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which involves installing groins, dredging, adding sand to a storm-battered beach nearby and obtaining property easements to increase public access.

The cost of the project could exceed $40 million, with the town picking up about $1.5 million of that.

Board members, facing a September 20 decision deadline, picked the so-called “navigation and coastal storm risk management plan”—provided that if it doesn’t work out, they could fall back on a less complex option.

“It is fairly ambitious,” Brian Frank, the town’s chief environmental analyst, told the board at its work session in Montauk on Tuesday, noting also that the chosen option also calls for dredging areas not associated with navigation.

Mr. Frank told the board that his understanding from the Army Corps was that if it needed to, the town could revert to a less involved “enhanced navigation” plan, which still calls for dredging, but not the groins or public-access requirements, among other add-ons.

The board greeted that favorably. Although Councilwoman Theresa Quigley initially said she was not comfortable voting for the more comprehensive plan without written assurance from the Army Corps that it could be scaled back, Supervisor Bill Wilkinson phrased a resolution to approve their chosen option on the basis that if it is not achievable, then the town could revert to a simpler alternative.

Councilman Dominick Stanzione quickly joined fellow Republicans Mr. Wilkinson and Ms. Quigley in voting in favor, while the Democratic minority, Councilwoman Sylvia Overby and Peter Van Scoyoc, hesitated at first, but eventually cast “yes” votes, making it unanimous.

“I just want to ensure that regardless of its point in the gestation process, that harbor gets dredged,” Mr. Wilkinson said, prior to voting for what he dubbed the “deluxe package.” Dredging is critical to the commercial fishing fleet, as well as to the ingress and egress of the U.S. Coast Guard, which has a station in Montauk, Mr. Wilkinson said, also thanking Democratic U.S. Representative Tim Bishop for his efforts in securing funding for the project.

“That inlet has become increasingly hazardous and unusually dynamic in recent years,” said Mr. Frank.

Of the three options presented by the Army Corps, one was to take no action, while the other two would include dredging the channel to a depth of 17 feet—5 feet deeper than its current 12-foot depth.

The plan that the town chose calls for 230,000 cubic yards of sand to be placed on 4,000 feet of beach west of the jetties. It would also install one to three groins, approximately 300 feet in length, along a stretch west of the jetties to fend off further erosion. The groins would initially be constructed of geotubes and replaced a decade later with a hard structure. At a similar discussion last week, Mr. Frank had noted that there were environmental aspects, such as their effect on the shoreline, to be considered as far as the groins were concerned.

Dredging would take place on an eight-year cycle, producing 80,000 cubic yards to maintain navigable depth.

The “deluxe” option also includes what officials called “real estate” requirements. The Army Corps mandates that any location on which it places sand must be accessible to the public, and the town must own the location of public access points and groins.

The lesser option, which Mr. Frank said could be considered a subset of the town’s ultimate choice, called for dredging 140,000 cubic yards of sand and using it toward replenishing 2,500 feet of beach west of the jetties. It also called for dredging the inlet on a five-year cycle to maintain navigation. That maintenance dredging was expected to produce 50,000 cubic yards of sand, to be placed within 1,200 feet west of the jetties.

Mr. Frank did not provide a total cost, but at last year’s presentation the combined option was estimated to cost $41.3 million, with the town contributing about $1.6 million.

A lawsuit is still pending against the Army Corps, town, Suffolk County and state, filed by homeowners in the Soundview Drive area west of the jetties. It charge that the inlet’s jetties, created in the 1920s, have led to severe erosion and property destruction.

Ms. Quigley said she would like to quickly set up a meeting to discuss a settlement and resolve those issues.

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