Montauk is a few steps closer to getting its downtown emergency stabilization project under way: East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell and the Town Board last week adopted resolutions necessary to initiate the plan, which could begin sometime between January and April.
Opponents of the project, however, pleaded for town officials to reconsider before they made a decision and committed to the work.
Attorney Carl Irace, representing the Surfrider Foundation, which has expressed opposition to a hard structure on the beach, asked the Town Board not to hand over total responsibility for the project’s construction and oversight to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers or to the state, since East Hampton has a much larger stake than anyone else.
Because East Hampton has a larger stake, said Jeremy Samuelson, executive director of Concerned Citizens of Montauk, he asked that the Town Board hire an independent coastal expert to monitor and guide the town through the project. “We have a responsibility to ourselves that we’ve done due diligence and not to take the Army Corps’ or the DEC’s word for it,” he said. “People make mistakes and don’t always design to the best standard.”
On Tuesday, Mr. Cantwell said the town has in fact been considering hiring a consultant to help them through the design and construction phases of the project. “I think we’re going to need some technical assistance in the project design and construction, and we’ve been having internal discussions about who that might be,” he said.
The Army Corps plan calls for 14,171 geotextile bags, or sandbags made of ultraviolet-resistant, sand-colored fabric, to be buried along 3,100 feet of the shoreline and covered with 3 feet of sand that will be vegetated. When filled, the bags would be approximately 5.5 feet long by 3.5 feet wide and 1.5 feet tall. Each one would weigh 1.7 tons, or as much as a pickup truck.
The dune will slope seaward for 35 feet, where a 45-foot-wide elevated berm would be created.
The resolutions that Mr. Cantwell and the council adopted on Thursday, November 20, initiated the local sponsor agreement with the state and the Army Corps, officially making the town responsible for the operation and maintenance of the project. Suffolk County will be responsible for half of that cost.
Secondly, the town officially granted easements on town-owned property along the shoreline to the State Department of Environmental Conservation, which is taking lead agency to conduct the State Environmental Quality Review Act.
Mr. Cantwell said the town has completed surveys at private properties because as the local sponsor the town must provide easements on land that the Army Corps indicated would be impacted by the project. There are 12 separate property owners representing 15 private properties that the town is working with to secure those easements.
Mr. Irace during the Town Board meeting said that Surfrider believes the stabilization project is going to “destroy our beach,” but that if it is going forward, the town needs to take lead agency status with regard to environmental review—and there needs to be more of it.
“The Town Board’s jurisdiction is more than just those issues [operation and maintenance of the project], it’s building, planning, zoning and commercial uses and other socioeconomic issues,” Mr. Irace said. “We think a thorough review of the town’s local planning document would shed some light on this … It doesn’t seem like the DEC or Army Corps has looked at our documents. Further environmental review, SEQRA, sets forth the process and the public’s part in the process. It empowers review by the people affected. I ask that the Town Board avoid the mistake of ceding local expertise on local issues to the state agency up in Albany.”
But Mr. Cantwell on Tuesday said that the public has had ample opportunity to review the project, and that he believes it’s something that must be done to protect the area, although it may not be the perfect solution.
“The project has been publicly discussed many times over … and the community has been involved in the process for over a year,” Mr. Cantwell said. “There’s a strong consensus of opinion that this project should move forward, and we will carry that out.”
He added that because Montauk presents a “unique set of circumstances,” there needs to be further action taken to find the most complete and sensible solution to make sure downtown Montauk isn’t destroyed in future catastrophic storms. He said the town is hoping it will be awarded a grant that would allow officials to hire a professional coastal engineer that would help come up with a coastal policy for the town.
“The entire downtown commercial area is in one of the lowest-lying and most vulnerable locations we have in the Town of East Hampton,” he said. “Trying to provide some protection there is paramount, but that solution is not necessarily the correct solution for the town on a coastwide basis. The purpose of applying for the grant would be to bring in professional expertise to study the coastline and prepare for the worst-case scenario before it happens.”