A federal judge this week denied an injunction request by opponents of a beach stabilization project under way in Montauk.
District Court Judge Arthur D. Spatt agreed with a magistrate’s recommendation from earlier this month that the injunction not be issued, even though it would mean the project will likely be completed while a lawsuit challenging the legality of the project’s approval is still pending.
Judge Spatt echoed Magistrate Judge Anne Shields’s findings that the Army Corps had thoroughly considered the environmental impacts of the project and properly applied state and local regulatory requirements.
Judge Shields had said the project did not have to be considered in the same light as a permanent structure because the sandbags are seen as being a potentially removable, temporary edifice. Opponents of the project have decried that assessment, saying that the bags will be no different from concrete when hit by waves and would carry the same negative environmental impacts as a permanent seawall, and thus should be considered as such.
The federal Army Corps of Engineers designed the project, which will bury more than 14,000 sandbags in the beachhead across 3,200 feet of downtown Montauk, from Kirk Park east to Lowenstein Court.
The project was approved by the State Department of Environmental Conservation and endorsed by Suffolk County and the East Hampton Town Board, which have agreed to pay annual maintenance costs to keep the sandbag revetment covered with sand as erosion washes away the initial covering.
The plaintiffs in the lawsuit, an environmental group called Defend H20 and members of the local Surfrider Foundation chapter, have sued the Army Corps, state and town, claiming the approvals of the project violated the town’s Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan.
More than two years in the offing, when the project finally got under way last month, the sight of a backhoe carving a gouge into the natural dunes along Kirk Park sparked outrage from Montauk residents. Protests that followed led to the arrest of at least a dozen people—several of whom were to appear in court on Wednesday morning.
Meanwhile the excavation work along the Montauk oceanfront continued early this week. Excavators have continued to dig the 50-foot-wide and 20-foot-deep trench eastward from the terminus of South Elmwood Avenue, and have begun laying the base frame and layer for the giant sandbags, known as Geocubes, that will fill the trench and then be covered with the excavated sand.
The project’s initial completion date was January 31, but it is not clear whether the protest will cause that date to be pushed back.