Four neighbors in Springs are asking the East Hampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals to consider letting them build a stone revetment to shore up their eroding properties on Louse Point Road.
Foot upon foot of land has vanished from their backyards as a result of harsh storms blowing in, they said at a public hearing before the ZBA on August 26, and their problem is not unique. Other town residents have applied for similar revetments, and like many of them, the Springs neighbors seem not to have the blessing of the Town Planning Department, which advises the ZBA and is generally opposed to hard structures on the beach.
According to Louse Point resident John Mullen, he has taken steps to keep the bluff, but he has lost 20 feet of his yard over the 18 years he’s lived at the house with his family.
“I stood on the bluff during Sandy, and I can assure you, no soft solution would have survived what I saw when the water was hitting the bluff,” Mr. Mullen said at last Tuesday’s ZBA meeting.
The four homes are contiguous, but have slightly different needs.
The edge of Lou Clemente’s bluff, at the farthest south of the four properties, is 6 feet closer to his home than it was in 2012. Mr. Mullen’s house is now 4 feet closer to the bluff than it was in 2012, while Tom Lynch’s property next door has lost almost 2 feet. Robin Wilder’s property, next door to the Mr. Lynch’s, lost 4 feet since 2012.
Mr. Lynch said this week that a patch of landscaping that was once in the middle of his backyard now sits at the very edge of the bluff crest.
Their consultant, Charles “Chic” Voorhis of the environmental consulting firm Nelson Pope & Voorhis, said consulting engineer Drew Bennett measured a loss of almost 2 feet per year. “It’s an active recession. The retreat seems to be constant,” Mr. Voorhis said. “To do nothing would mean continuing to lose property and have the bluff crest retreat. It’s been slumping [off] since April.”
To slow down the process, the four neighbors propose to build a 560-foot stone revetment to bolster bluffs for approximately 30 years that currently have no protection. Nearly 80 percent of the bluffs along that 4,500-foot stretch at Louse Point are protected with rock revetments, bulkheads and groins, according to Mr. Voorhis. It was the voracity of the storms through 2010 to 2012, including Superstorm Sandy, that really started eating away the bluffs, he said.
To the south, next to Mr. Clemente’s property, the shoreline has been altered with approximately 3,100 feet of a combination of timber or vinyl bulkheads, stone revetments and timber groin fields.
Ms. Wilder got approval to build a rock revetment on a property she owns to the north in 2009, which left her flag lot to the south unprotected. The beach in front of her northern property is narrower than those to the south, according to ZBA members, who asked if the revetment was to blame.
“Many factors contributed to that,” Mr. Voorhis said. “It is a fairly steep bluff and sticks out more into the bay. The [bluffs to the south] are much farther back. The beach will still remain and people will be able to pass on the beach.”
The plan is to place the stones higher than the base of the existing revetment to the north, especially since the bluffs are set back more.
“We want the beach,” Mr. Mullen said, pressing that there would be plenty of room to walk the beach.
But Brian Frank, the town’s chief environmental analyst, and Town Trustee Diane McNally have said allowing the neighbors to build the rock revetment would hurt Louse Point Beach.
“The Planning Department, and me personally, don’t take this situation that these property owners are in lightly,” Mr. Frank said at the meeting. “Respectfully, I will say this is the wrong project at the wrong time for this area.”
He said the proposed revetment is not supported by the town’s zoning regulations, its Comprehensive Plan or its Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan, which call for continued ease of public access to the beach and the protection of wetlands.
Mr. Frank added that the erosion rate was probably worsened due to irrigation and water runoff at other properties over the years and that the addition of another revetment would diminish the character and quality of Louse Point, which is part of the Peconic Estuary.
As a Trustee, Ms. McNally was most concerned with beach access, and she wrote a letter in opposition to the proposal.
“The stabilization of the bluffs, which are comprised primarily of sand and cobbles, may cut off the supply of these materials to the beach, causing it to decrease in size and even disappear entirely over time,” she wrote. “As beach width decreases, public access for recreation and natural habitat value are similarly reduced.”
Most of the applicants have replaced sand on the beach over the years, but lately it just gets washed away, they said.
“There was a 6-foot storm surge during Sandy,” Mr. Lynch said. “The waves took away almost 20 feet of bluff in less than two years. Any more and the deck will collapse. My foundation is 35 feet from the jeopardized bluff. I just want to protect what I have left.”
The ZBA closed the public hearing but voted to keep the record open for six weeks for written comment.