Wilkinson’s Montauk Restoration Document Raises Eyebrows For Being Kept From View

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While proposals to shore up downtown Montauk using sand, hard structures and federal funds have taken center stage in East Hampton Town over the past few weeks, a mysterious document related to the project has surfaced in discussions ever so briefly.

Titled the “Montauk Beach Restoration Project,” and dated January 14, it describes a $20 million plan to dump sand on 12,225 linear feet—more than two miles—of beach, and install a dune with a rock core, a boardwalk/promenade and nine pedestrian/vehicle access points along the beach.

Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson has described the document as a “personal communication” he submitted to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, as well as to U.S. Representative Tim Bishop and State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr., early in the year, with a goal of turning the Army Corps’s attention to the easternmost hamlet.

The mystery stems from his refusal to release it when asked by members of the public at recent town meetings—and a perceived assumption by the Army Corps that it was the town’s preferred plan for the restoration of the beach following Superstorm Sandy, and as a means of protecting the downtown business district from future storms. There also are questions about the nature of the document, why it was prepared, and whether it was presented to the Army Corps on behalf of the town as a guiding document for protecting Montauk.

Mr. Wilkinson this week, upon being asked about the document by a reporter who had obtained a copy, threatened to report the matter to the Police Department, calling it a breach of his private communication.

The document, in a series of slides, touts the hamlet’s unique location, historical significance and its beaches as a star attraction. It provides figures related to the hamlet’s tourism-driven economy, its contributions to the broader economy, and the chunk of taxes generated by a few sample businesses, as well as some rough calculations for what a restoration project might look like and an example of what such a plan might entail, including sand, a “rock cored” dune and a boardwalk/promenade. Also included are letters from Montauk businessmen Steve Kalimnios and Paul Monte to Mr. Thiele and Mr. Bishop thanking them for their efforts to draw attention to Montauk.

An Army Corps representative, during a recent presentation to the Town Board, referred to the document as having been submitted by the town.

“The third plan that we developed—and this was kind of consistent with the plan that the town assembled and provided to Congressman Bishop back in the January/February timeframe,” said Steve Couch, chief of the Army Corps’ coastal section of the New York district, “which is this stone revetment within the dune and a beach-fill component in front of that.”

Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc said he had no knowledge of the plan.

“I’m sorry, I’m going to interrupt you there,” he said. “You said the town provided that plan. I’m not aware that the town provided any plan.”

Mr. Wilkinson spoke up and said that it was he who submitted it. He has since refused to disclose it, questioning why a document from January is being brought up now, in election season.

“The real question about this communication,” he said, “is why do so many people want to see it? One would conclude that during these times, people could try to derail the Army Corps’s relief of Montauk. I would hope that’s not true.”

The supervisor would not say who paid for the report. It never went before the Town Board.

The draft budget and model plan in the document were drawn up by Aram Terchunian, a coastal geologist with First Coastal Corporation. He said this week that he could no longer remember who asked him to do it, but that he had been in touch with Mr. Wilkinson, as well as several Montauk motel owners, and was asked to illustrate the scale and scope, geographically and dollar-wise, of the type of solution necessary to address as serious a flooding and erosion problem as found in Montauk. He said no one paid him to do it.

“It wasn’t intended to be definitive,” he said, “just a conceptual drawing and a very rough budget.”

Mr. Wilkinson maintains that the document is not one required to be made public. Mr. Thiele, however, offered a different view.

“It should be,” he responded, when asked if it was a public document. “It was submitted to a congressman’s office and a senator’s office, and the Army Corps, of course. As to why Mr. Wilkinson is being Mr. Wilkinson—I’m not sure.”

Mr. Thiele said the document had been drawn up as part of the effort to secure federal funding for Montauk, which since then has been flagged for priority attention due to its wallop from Superstorm Sandy.

Oliver Longwell, a spokesman for Mr. Bishop, said the document proved helpful in prioritizing Montauk.

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