Army Corps Still Studying Montauk Beach Repair Options; Decision Pushed To New Year

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It was the talk of the town all fall and seemed imminent. Nevertheless, a decision about how to use federal funds to shore up the ocean beach in downtown Montauk will not take place until the new year, after a new administration takes office in East Hampton Town.

With the tourist-favorite hamlet flagged as a priority emergency repair project in the wake of Superstorm Sandy, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in late September presented to the Town Board five options for replenishing and protecting the beach from future storms and promised to return in early to mid-November with more detailed plans and cost analyses, which would guide the town’s choice.

Officials warned that despite the lack of a firm deadline by which to decide, the funds—no set amount has been designated specifically for Montauk, but the money comes from the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013, more popularly known as the Sandy Bill—could go to another community.

Yet another page on the calendar has flipped, with no new return date set.

The corps is still determining which of the potential alternatives would be “legally economically justified” with a positive benefit-to-cost ratio, Chris Gardner, a spokesman for the Army Corps’ New York division, said last week. This work includes refining conceptual designs and cost estimates for the three remaining options: a feeder beach, a buried seawall and a buried geotextile concept, he said.

The Town Board in October narrowed the original five options to two—rebuilding a dune using only sand or with a buried, armored dune—and added a new one, one that would use buried geotextile materials.

Having to analyze the new option is part of the reason for the delay, Mr. Gardner said. The corps is also still refining details to ensure a positive benefit-to-cost ratio, which, he said is required by law for any alternative to move forward.

The corps’ return before the Town Board depends on the completion of the economic analyses, Mr. Gardner said, adding, “It will likely be early in the new year when the recently elected officials are there, so we can speak with them and answer their questions.”

Outgoing Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson, who pushed hard for Montauk, his home hamlet, to rise in priority in the broader Fire Island to Montauk Point Reformulation Study, said last week he was told by U.S. Representative Tim Bishop’s office that lengthy discussions between the Army Corps and the State Department of Environmental Conservation meant the project would not get back on track until 2014.

Mr. Gardner said that the two agencies worked together in recent weeks to get on the same page regarding specifics for a proposed dune project on Fire Island, but that it had no direct relation to the ongoing work related to downtown Montauk.

Krystyna Baumgartner, the new communications director for Mr. Bishop, did not address the issue of the talks this week, but instead issued a statement attributed to Mr. Bishop saying the Army Corps continues to work hard to protect Long Island’s coastal communities.

“I will continue to work closely with the Corps and the Town of East Hampton to ensure that the vital work at Montauk moves forward,” it read.

Susan McCormick, the chief of the DEC’s Coastal Erosion Management Section and Bureau of Flood Protection and Dam Safety, who appeared before the Town Board at the initial meeting in September, did not return requests for comment this week.

But Mr. Wilkinson, whose term in office ends on December 31, said he just wants Montauk to be taken care of.

“My basic view is that I don’t care who’s arguing with whom or what administration gets credit for it,” he said. “As long as it gets done.”

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