The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Downtown Montauk Stabilization Project will not begin until October, and will be completed in one phase as opposed to the original plan to start work in the spring, stop for the summer and then finish with a second phase in the fall.
The $8 million shoreline project, designed to prevent erosion caused by sea level rise and protect a lengthy stretch of motels along the beach, is being delayed because the contractor hired to perform the work, H&L Contracting of Bay Shore, has not completed its preparations for the construction.
According to Chris Gardner, a spokesman for the Army Corps, H&L Contracting will be doing preparation work between now and October, but will not be doing any site work until then. Mr. Gardner said the contractor’s preparation will include securing a field office, gathering the equipment that is needed and procuring the geotextiles.
“Ultimately, the determination to do the preparation makes more sense,” he said on Tuesday. “The options were to either quickly mobilize and get a small segment done or to use this time to do a lot of prep work and hit the ground running in the fall so they can do it all,” he added.
“I don’t see this as putting the overall project at risk,” said East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell. “It’s a timing matter.”
But opponents of the project are pleased with the development, saying that more time means more opportunity to change officials’ minds.
The project has gotten a lot of criticism from organizations like the Eastern Long Island Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation and Defend H2O, which are opposed to hard structures on the beach. The groups are calling for alternatives like a full beach replenishment with sand and vegetation or the complete relocation of businesses away from the shore.
The beach stabilization project calls for more than 14,000 1.7-ton geotextile sandbags to be buried along 3,100 feet of downtown Montauk’s vulnerable shoreline. The bags will be covered with 3 feet of sand and vegetation and wooden stairs and walkways are planned to be installed over the dune to provide access to the beach.
Mr. Cantwell said the whole basis of the project is not only to protect the oceanfront motels but to protect Montauk’s business center and economy, so it is important as much of it get done as possible.
However, in March, Kevin McAllister, the founder and president of Defend H2O, Mike Bottini and Thomas Muse, who are members of the executive committee of the Eastern Long Island Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, Jay Levine, a board member of the Concerned Citizens of Montauk and Montauk resident Rav Friedel together filed a lawsuit in state court to stop the project.
The group claims that the construction of the revetment across 3,100 feet of the beachfront will have wide-ranging negative impacts on the Montauk area and deviates from long-held policies for protecting coastlines in the region. Furthermore, they say the work threatens to leave Montauk without a traditional sand beach after storms, a prospect that would carry economic impacts.
With news of the postponement, Mr. McAllister is hopeful he and his colleagues can still stop the project.
“Perhaps time is our friend here,” he said this week. “With more time, perhaps we can persuade the elected officials behind this to rethink their decision. Things can change over the course of the summer. With prevailing winds and waves it could potentially mean the beach accretes.”
Mr. McAllister said the plaintiffs in the lawsuit did not request a temporary restraining order or injunction, but they are hopeful a decision will be made in time to stop the project.
In the meantime, he said he hopes to educate the public and build more opposition for the project.
While Mr. Cantwell has some concerns about the delay because of the typical rough weather during the fall, which could change the project area, he said that it is now out of the town’s hands.
“It’s hard to predict the weather,” Mr. Cantwell said. “The fall tends to be more volatile than in spring in terms of storms and erosion. We have to work through a process here, a lot of which is outside of the town’s control. If the project was beginning in spring, at best, the Corps would have completed maybe one-third of the total project.”