Neighbors on Louse Point in Springs will have to go back to the drawing board after the East Hampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals last Tuesday night, April 14, denied their request to build a rock revetment. The homeowners had been pushing for the revetment to prevent further erosion of the beach in front of their waterfront homes, but the majority of the board said it would be harmful to the environment.
After a combined total of eight hours of public hearing on the issue, the board voted, 4-1, to deny four applications that requested approval for the structure and decided to forgo further environmental study. Board member Don Cirillo dissented, saying he was “going with the experts,” who said the revetment would be the best solution to protect the properties along the bluff.
The decision came seven months after the neighbors, Tom Lynch, Robin Wilder, John Mullen and Lou Clemente, first approached the board. Mr. Lynch, whose home is the closest to the bluff, said he was disappointed and worried about the future of his property and the beach.
“I still feel there would be no detriment to the environment,” he said on Wednesday. “There’s nothing living on the banks. There’s no habitat on the bank. It was stripped barren by Hurricane Sandy. There was vegetation before all that. I don’t understand how a soft solution could protect my property during another major storm.”
The neighbors came to the town for help when they noticed what they said was severe erosion of their properties, with the shore inching closer and closer to their homes over the last few years. They said they tried replenishing the beach with sand, but it just washed away and that’s why they were asking for a rock revetment.
Their applications requested approval to build a 560-foot-long stone revetment to bolster the bluffs. The plan called for the placement of 2-to-4-ton armor stone on a bed of gravel and filter fabric. Approximately 199 cubic yards of beach sand would have been excavated to set the toe of the revetment at approximately 3 feet below sea level.
The revetment would’ve extended up the bluff face to an elevation of 13 feet, and the bluff would’ve been regraded and cut back. The proposal also called for the installation of nylon mesh erosion blankets and the planting of beachgrass and wildflowers.
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 the applicants’ engineer, Charles “Chic” Voorhis of the environmental consulting firm Nelson Pope and Voorhis. It was the voracity of the storms from 2010 to 2012, including Superstorm Sandy, that really started eating away the bluffs, he said at a March 24 ZBA hearing. One more big storm and more footage could be eaten away, he said.
But ZBA member Cate Rogers, and three other members, said the rock revetment would hurt the environment and was not needed because, according to observations, the erosion at the properties was episodic and not chronic. Instead of a rock revetment, she suggested the homeowners fully attempt a beach replenishment project over a period of years before they sought a revetment again.
“I don’t agree that any of the properties are in imminent danger and there are no alternative means that exist for the structures on the properties,” she said last Tuesday night. “You have to replenish it over and over [with sand]. They did not satisfy what we need to grant them the revetment. There are no coastal erosion structures allowed in this section, unless they get a variance.”
She said hard structures are prohibited by the town’s Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan and in order to prove no alternative soft solutions will work, the homeowners should have attempted a beach replenishment project over several years, rather than just trying it once.
Mr. Voorhis said the neighbors did try to add sand to the beach but it was washed away and that a soft solution or beach replenishment would not protect the bluff nor the properties. He instead argued that the revetment was a “softer approach” than a bulkhead or a concrete seawall and that it would not diminish the beach because everything—the stones and the berm—would be placed above the normal coastal processes.
“It would dissipate the wave energy in a manner that would cause less scouring than if there were a seawall or bulkhead,” he said. “It will be covered.”
But the ZBA members used two revetments immediately north of the four properties, which have not been recovered with sand, despite requirements, to predict the future of the proposed project.
Ms. Wilder received approval in 2009 to build a rock revetment on a property she owns to the north, which left her flag lot to the south unprotected. The beach in front of her northern property is narrower than those to the south and it has only just been replenished with sand.
Mr. Cirillo was convinced that the project would not only work, but wouldn’t harm the environment and neighboring properties, based on information provided by Nelson, Pope and Voorhis.
“The short answer is you don’t accept what they’re telling you,” he told his fellow board members. “I’m saying this expert has a lot of experience … this is not Engineers-R-Us, this is Nelson, Pope and Voorhis. He’s saying that if you do [a beach replenishment] it won’t work and that is why he is recommending this. You have hypotheticals and maybes, and you’re telling them to give it the old college try.”
Despite that, the ZBA denied the application and now the homeowners must regroup and decide what is next. One possibility would be to work with Suffolk County to get 12,500 cubic yards of sand placed on their beach, which would be dredged from Accabonac Harbor.
Mr. Lynch said he wasn’t hopeful about that because the last time that opportunity arose, Hurricane Sandy stopped the process. Since then, there has been no movement. But still, it remains a possibility.
“We will likely huddle up in May and figure out what the next steps are,” Mr. Lynch said, adding that in the meantime he will “hope and pray.”
“I will be trying to keep in contact with the town’s natural resources department about the next dredging of Accabonac harbor,” he said.