Tiana Erosion Problem Presents Some Huge Hurdles

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The raising of Dune Road in Hampton Bays and East Quogue is seen as a critical long-term fix to the chronic flooding and intermittent overwashes of the barrier island artery. But even the ultimate completion of that multimillion-dollar effort, the feasibility of which the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has said it will begin examining soon, will not settle the issue of the anemic beach in the region that has led to incipient overwashes since Hurricane Sandy washed away the protective beachhead and dunes.

The stretch of beach between Shinnecock Inlet and Quogue Village was particularly hard hit by Sandy. Most of the dunes along the stretch were entirely leveled. Temporary dunes were rebuilt by simply bulldozing the sand washed across the barrier island back into piles along the beach.

But with the beach itself greatly diminished, subsequent storms—even relatively benign ones that come at a time of high tides—have sent the ocean across the barrier island again.

There have been two overwashes along a short stretch of beach at Tiana over the last several months, and residents and beach experts worry that the problem will get worse if something is not done to bolster the shorefront, as was done between Shinnecock Inlet and Ponquogue Beach last winter.

Engineers from Suffolk County, the State Department of Environmental Conservation and the U.S.Army Corps of Engineers have examined the beach at Tiana since the second overwash occurred earlier this month and have estimated that the stretch of beach needs 120,000 cubic yards of sand—more than 160,000 tons worth—dumped onto it to raise the beachhead and rebuild substantial dunes.

Now officials are trying to figure out how, or if, the sand can be brought to the beach and, if so, how to pay for it. The issues are vexing but some say that if the problem at Tiana is not addressed, it could lead to bigger problems down the road, even if Dune Road is eventually elevated.

“If you go back to the late 1980s in West Hampton Dunes, this is exactly what was happening there,” said coastal geologist and engineer Aram Terchunian, nodding to the region’s most famous loss of land and property by beach erosion: the destruction of more than 100 homes after a series of nor’easters washed away the barrier island in 1992, creating a new inlet into Moriches Bay.

In October, the Army Corps is scheduled to begin a beach nourishment project at West Hampton Dunes, and that project could provide a possible boost at Tiana as well. With the giant dredging vessel and support fleet that will conduct the West Hampton Dunes work already in the region, town and county officials have suggested that both might be enlisted to bolster the beach at Tiana as well.

Even if funding were identified, permitting for such beach nourishment projects can take several months under most circumstances. There may be ways to expedite the process, however.

“We’re trying, through Congressman [Tim] Bishop’s office, to get the governor to invoke the emergency breach contingency plan, which allows for all the permitting to happen very quickly,” Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said. “If we’re able to piggyback on the West Hampton Dunes project, that would save half a million dollars in mobilizing the dredge. Still, where the funding would come from is a big hurdle.”

Another option could be a long-planned dredging of the eastern channel inside Shinnecock Bay, which is estimated to need about 150,000 cubic yards of sand cleared from it. Logistics of that project would also be complicated because the sand would have to be pumped ashore somewhere near the Shinnecock Inlet and then hauled to Tiana by trucks—about 6,000 dump trucks full.

“It would take all year,” Mr. Terchunian said. “Six thousand truck loads, filled with sand—you can’t imagine what that would do to Dune Road. So, you’d have to go along the beach. That’s going to be really expensive. The most cost-effective [option] would be to get the dredge … and do it all at once.”

The work in West Hampton Dunes, the fourth nourishment project since the barrier island was restored in 1993, will be the largest to date. The 1993 rebuilding of the barrier island used some four million cubic yards of sand. The three subsequent maintenance nourishment projects have added between 500,000 and 700,000 cubic yards each. This fall’s work calls for about 900,000 cubic yards to be pumped ashore.

The project is expected to take about two months. The entire $14.1 million cost is being paid for by the Army Corps.

The West Hampton Dunes project is costing about $10 per cubic yard of sand pumped ashore, plus some $5 million in mobilization costs—$14.1 million altogether. Mr. Terchunian said he did not know what the mobilization costs of moving the dredge from West Hampton Dunes to Tiana would be.

Officials acknowledged that all of the options are contingent on a lot of things falling into place—and in a hurry.

“These are perfect world solutions,” Ms. Throne-Holst said. “But this is the kind of thing government ought to be able to react to and put some funding behind.”

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