Westhampton Beach Boy Scout Works To Preserve Shoreline

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After witnessing the damage left behind by Hurricane Sandy’s surging waves last fall, 14-year-old Thomas Montagna said finding a focus for his Eagle Scout project was simple.Having grown up near the ocean, surfing and spending his summers at the beach, Thomas said he wanted to find a way to help preserve it for current and future generations.

This Sunday he will move a step closer toward becoming an Eagle Scout, the highest rank a Boy Scout can earn, by planting 2,300 plugs of beach grass and installing sand fencing along the dunes at Rogers Beach in Westhampton Beach, his hometown.

The Westhampton Beach High School freshman said he began by researching beach grass, which helps preserve the ocean dunes by trapping sand in its roots to prevent erosion. After months of planning and submitting his project proposal to the Boy Scout Council for approval, as well as seeking support from the Westhampton Beach Board of Trustees, he began fundraising.

He presented his project to community members at the Westhampton Beach Farmers Market earlier this fall and received enough donations—thanks to a generous discount from Peat and Son Nursery in Westhampton—to purchase enough beach grass plugs to cover an estimated 2,300 square feet of dunes, stretching along the walkway down to Rogers Beach and along the dunes to the east and west of the entrance. He said he raised about $400 at the Farmers Market, accounting for about half of his total expenses.

And earlier this week, Westhampton Beach Village Trustee Hank Tucker met Thomas down at Rogers Beach to measure the area of dunes that will receive the new plantings on Sunday.

Thomas, who is a member of Boy Scout Troop 62, explained that he also sought the help of local environmental experts who have been very supportive of his efforts. Aram Terchunian, owner of the environmental firm First Coastal in Westhampton Beach, graciously donated a few hundred feet of sand fencing, which helps build up the dunes by trapping sand, according to Thomas.

Sue Wilcenski, an expert in landscape architecture from Quogue, also offered valuable advice as Thomas planned his project, he said. She suggested that he also plant goldenseal plants, which attract monarch butterflies after their migration north each spring. Thomas said he plans to use his leftover funds to purchase around 20 of the plants.

At 11 a.m. on Sunday, when the Scout heads down to the beach to begin planting and installing the fencing, he won’t be alone. He explained Tuesday that as a requirement of the Eagle Scout project, he is responsible for organizing and getting others involved in the effort. Last Sunday, he and more than a dozen of his fellow Scouts from Troop 62, as well as his friends, prepared the beach for the planting by collecting and carrying out about 15 bags of garbage. He said he expects the same group, and hopefully others, to help him with the planting.

“They see that Thomas is excited by it,” Paula Montagna, Thomas’s mother, said. “They’re a bunch of nice guys.”

She noted that the Eagle Scout project has been a great learning experience for her son and has also allowed him to be a role model to his younger brother, Jason, 11, as well as his friends and many of the younger Scouts.

When Thomas isn’t busy with Scouting, he’s playing football and lacrosse. Ms. Montagna noted that her son and a number of his fellow Scouts still find time for athletics even though they must dedicate many hours to earn their required badges. “These guys have managed to maintain both, which is very commendable,” she said.

Bill Dalton, who established the Boy Scout Troop 62 with his wife, Patricia, a few years ago, said it is satisfying to see the boys progress. About three of the Scouts have already earned the rank of Eagle Scout, and four others, including Thomas, are currently working hard on their Eagle Scout projects, hoping to follow in their footsteps.

“They’ve been with me since they were 6,” Mr. Dalton said. “They all came through the ranks together.”

Even if all goes as planned Sunday, Thomas will have to wait a bit longer before earning the title of Eagle Scout. He still must compile a report that explains all the work he has undertaken and present it for final approval.

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