If federal funding cannot be secured to raise a chronically flooded section of Dune Road, the stretch that runs between the Ponquogue Bridge in Hampton Bays and Quogue Village, some of the area’s wealthiest residents could look to finance the roadwork themselves to protect their waterfront homes.
With longstanding plans to raise a five-mile stretch of Dune Road by 2 feet currently stalled due to the projected costs, estimated to run between $7 million and $9 million, Southampton Town has said that it must seek outside funding to cover the bulk of the work. The town has appropriated $1 million for the project but has been seeking state and federal funding to cover most of the remaining cost.
During a recent budget discussion, Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst noted that a group of Dune Road residents in East Quogue and Quogue had approached the town about possibly funding the raising of the roadway privately. Their initiative came with a nod to the public-private partnership that spurred a $26 million beach nourishment project in Bridgehampton and Sagaponack Village that proponents say will protect homes from future erosion and storm damage.
Residents in those areas had formed, by local referendum, their own special taxing district, allowing the town to borrow the millions needed to pay for the beach nourishment project and then levy additional taxes solely on those oceanfront properties to repay the loans.
But state law, Ms. Throne-Holst said, prevents towns from creating special taxing districts to pay for road improvements, no matter how localized. The law apparently does not block the town’s acceptance of unsolicited financial contributions from outside sources to help finance such projects.
With that in mind, the supervisor added, the homeowners have proposed incorporating a nonprofit homeowners’ association that would raise money to fund the raising of Dune Road and then hand off the money to the town. Ms. Throne-Holst also stressed that the discussions have been only preliminary, adding that both sides are looking into the potential legal hurdles that would have to be negotiated.
She also declined to identify any of the homeowners who had approached the town.
“It’s very much in the percolating phase at this point,” Ms. Throne-Holst said during a recent interview. “But what they are considering is a 501c3, organized around a homeowners’ association of these Dune Road residents that could then take private contributions. How much we could raise that way, we don’t know.”
Town Highway Superintendent Alex Gregor said he has also spoken to area homeowners about some less intense fixes to Dune Road that could be privately funded if a full-blown raising of the roadway is impossible.
Designs for the work suggest raising the pavement by 2 feet, placing Dune Road above projected flood levels for the foreseeable future. But Mr. Gregor noted that he and the homeowners have discussed the possibility of raising Dune Road by only between 3 and 5 inches.
“From talking to some of the property owners … they’ve told me that they’re rich but not that rich,” Mr. Gregor said. “If we raised it about 5 inches and tilted it to the north, so the water would run off, from [the former] Neptune’s west, it would be about $890,000. In the area near Round Dune, it would be $110,000.
“That’s a little more affordable, I guess,” he continued, “and it would give them a little relief.”
The town’s first hope, however, continues to be securing a large chunk of money from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, funding that would be directed to completing the original project. Previously, the town had appealed to the Army Corps, asking that the proposed raising be included as part of some $700 million in federal funding earmarked to shore up the South Shore and help curb future erosion.
An elevated roadway, the town has argued, could serve as a hardened spine for the barrier island in that region, protecting against breaches during severe storms. The ocean already overwashes regularly near the western end of Dune Road that is being targeted for elevation, a situation that experts on coastal dynamics say is a precursor to a full breach.
But if the Army Corps, which is currently reviewing the town’s proposal, does not come through with the funding, some local residents are eyeing their project as a worthwhile effort all the same, citing the need to protect both themselves and their real estate investments.
“We remain hopeful that the federal money will come through,” Ms. Throne-Holst said, nodding to the coming changing of the guard in the region’s congressional representation. “I hope that [Congressman-elect Lee Zeldin] is going to be as much of a zealot on this as [U.S. Representative] Tim Bishop has been, because that is how we got as far as we have.”