East Hampton Town Narrows Montauk Beach Reconstruction Options, Requests ‘Soft’ Option Be Considered

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The East Hampton Town Board, in a divisive vote late last Thursday night, narrowed five U.S. Army Corps of Engineers options for repairing and protecting the ocean beach off downtown Montauk to two—rebuilding the dune with sand only or a buried, armored dune.

The board also called upon the Corps to consider a new, third option: geotextile tube technology. Montauk has recently been flagged as a priority emergency repair project post-Superstorm Sandy, qualifying it for full federal funding.

The 4-1 vote on the resolution, a walk-on introduced by Councilwoman Theresa Quigley toward the end of a three-hour meeting based on a recent work session discussion, immediately won the three Republican votes needed to pass. It drew complaints from the board’s Democratic minority, however.

Supervisor Bill Wilkinson and fellow Republicans Ms. Quigley and Councilman Dominick Stanzione quickly cast “yes” votes, but the Democrats, Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc and Councilwoman Sylvia Overby, said they had not yet seen the resolution—to which Mr. Wilkinson replied that he made it in large print, so they could see it.

An animated discussion ensued, throughout which Mr. Wilkinson repeatedly pressed the Democrats to cast their votes.

Mr. Van Scoyoc, the lone “nay” vote, objected to the resolution being presented as a walk-on, “on probably the most important topic that we will address in our tenure on the Town Board.”

He said he would prefer the Army Corps complete its cost-benefit analysis for the other options it had presented, with the exception of the groins, an option so unlikely he said the Army Corps was “almost embarrassed” to present it. Having more options analyzed would provide a broader picture, he said.

In late September, the Army Corps presented five possible options to shore up the coastline along the Montauk business district. The first calls for placing roughly 120,000 cubic yards of sand to create a feeder beach that would, over time, nourish westerly beaches. This idea was originally part of the overall draft FIMPS proposal prior to Superstorm Sandy and is the only alternative currently proven to have the positive benefit-to-cost ratio required to be economically justified, according to Chris Gardner, spokesman for the Army Corps’ New York division.

The second alternative calls for constructing a 15-foot-high dune and 90-foot-wide beach berm; a berm, according to the Army Corps, refers to a wide, flat sandy beach, essentially where beachgoers lay their towels. Because of the width required, it would likely involve real estate requirements, like pushing back motels, that could drive up the initial costs.

The third option calls for constructing just a 90-foot-wide beach berm. The fourth would construct a 15-foot-high dune—considered “armored” because it would have a seawall within it—and a 35-foot-wide beach berm. The fifth option, considered unlikely, calls for building a 15-foot-high dune, a 90-foot-wide beach berm, and groins that taper off to manage sand movement.

Ms. Quigley said that letting the Army Corps continue studying “completely unviable” options would be a waste of time and money.

Mr. Wilkinson claimed that the Army Corps said the town was being unrealistic to believe relocation—an option that would involve real estate requirements like condemning motels—was a real option. At an Army Corps presentation late last month, it was Mr. Wilkinson who told the Corps that tourists stay in Montauk to see the ocean, not the woods.

“I didn’t hear the Corps say that,” Mr. Van Scoyoc said.

“Well then you should open up your ears,” Mr. Wilkinson quipped and pushed for a vote again.

Ms. Overby, who voiced many objections but eventually voted in favor of the resolution, said she would like the town to ask the Army Corps to reconsider including Ditch Plains in the project, an idea that she said has a lot of support but was rejected by the Corps.

She also pointed out that because the walk-on was introduced so late, the public did not get a chance to see the resolution.

“This is continuing the kind of closed-door negotiations that go on,” she said, to which Ms. Quigley responded that Ms. Overby was being “unfair and tacky.” Ms. Quigley stressed that there was nothing surprising in the resolution.

At one point, Mr. Van Scoyoc made a motion to have the Army Corps continue considering the other options, which Ms. Overby seconded, but the Republicans all opposed.

The sand-only option calls for constructing a 90-foot-wide beach berm. The “sand and rock” option calls for constructing a 15-foot-high dune—which would be considered armored because it would have a seawall within it—and a 35-foot-wide beach berm.

Missing from the conversation, so far, have been the East Hampton Town Trustees. Although they do not have jurisdiction over the spot in question, their clerk, Diane McNally, said in an interview this week that they are following this story closely, because they are trying to design policies that will provide for consistent shoreline policies among the town, East Hampton Village, the Trustees and even Southampton Town.

The Trustees always find sand to be the best option, she said, because even if it does go downdrift, it can be brought back. Ms. McNally questioned the Army Corps’s talk of using sand from offshore, noting that wave action onshore is not just based on what the beach looks like, but also the contours of the bottom. Also, no one has addressed the impact to the marine species from changing the contours of the sea bottom, she said. Getting the correct consistency of sand to match the shore also requires a lot of data—and time.

“I don’t know how, in two months, they’re going to be able to design a project that will have no detrimental impacts to Montauk or the ocean,” she said.

The possibility of even simple errors having a big effect, she said, make the timing even more suspect. In her experience, she said, when faced with a hard deadline on such a massive project, it is best to walk away.

“There are strings attached that we’re not even aware of,” she warned.

Another concern is the scouring away of sand that results to the east and west of hard structures, like rock walls, as well as from softer structures, like geotexile bags.

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