Geocubes: Not So Temporary In Southampton

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In the wake of Superstorm Sandy dozens of homes in Bridgehampton and Sagaponack were left exposed to the Atlantic’s waves with the winter storm season approaching. Nearly every homeowner spent tens of thousands of dollars to truck in sand to build towering berms across the ocean side of their properties in hopes of holding back the next onslaught of storm-driven waves. The glaring weakness of the natural protections also spurred the approval of the $26 million beach nourishment project now nearing completion.

Several homeowners, 17 in all, asked Southampton Town for, and were granted, permission to fortify the exposed foundations of their structures with giant square sandbags, commonly referred to as geocubes, so that if storm waves washed through the meager sand barriers they would not directly batter the supports of the houses. Engineers for the homeowners ringed the base of each house with dozens of the large white cubes weighing hundreds of pounds each.

But the use of such “hard” protective implements along the beachfront in Southampton Town is allowed only in emergencies and only as a temporary measure. The permits prohibited the sandbags from being arranged across the front of the entire property to serve as a protective barrier, requiring that they be tied directly to the foundation’s footings only.

The town commonly requires applicants for projects, especially those intended to be only temporary, to post “performance bonds,” an escrow deposit to ensure that the work is performed, or removed, as promised. If the homeowner does not comply, the bond money can be used by the town to finish the job itself should it see fit.

With the beach in front of the homes that received geocube permits rebuilt with more than 3 million tons of sand, the town has declared the emergency situation along the oceanfront over, requiring that the geocube fortifications be removed.

But none of the geocubes have been removed yet, and the town has found that just six of the 17 homeowners submitted the performance bonds required in their emergency permits.

“Some of those landowners are in compliance and some are not,” town chief environmental analyst Marty Shea said last week. “A performance bond was required to cover the cost of the removal of the geocube so that in the event that the landowner decided not to remove the geocubes within the required time period, the town could hire an outside contractor to go in and take them out.”

Mr. Shea said that the town is still trying to decide what recourse to take if the homeowners do not remove the geocubes, as his office is now recommending. He said he expects that negotiations will take place and that the town will not take steps to remove the geocubes itself in the near future. If it did decide such drastic steps were necessary, the cost of the work could simply be added to the tax bills of those homeowners who have not remitted performance bonds.

According to town records, two of the main organizers of the beach nourishment project, Bridgehampton resident Jeff Lignelli and Sagaponack resident Alan Stillman, are among the 11 homeowners who never submitted the performance bonds.

The other delinquents are Michael Kooper, Barry Volpert, Michael Gelman, Mark Perlbinder, Adam Schwartz, Anthony Blumberg, Lloyd Goldman, Elie Tahari and an LLC called A&E Club Properties that owns a parcel on Mid-Ocean Drive in Bridgehampton, an address shared by the Bridgehampton Tennis and Surf Club.

Mr. Stillman, Mr. Kooper and Mr. Gelman, who are neighbors, put only a small line of one-ton sandbags across the front of their foundations, rather than tied to them like the others. But they were approved only with a performance bond requirement as well. Mr. Stillman, the only one of several homeowners who returned calls seeking comment, said that he was not aware his property had even had the sandbags installed or that a performance bond was required.

The town did receive bonds from William Siegel, Jeffrey Blau, David Wassong, Gerald Cardinale, Barry Lafer and an LLC that owns 751 Daniels Lane in Sagaponack.

The bonds submitted ranged from $900 to more than $16,000 depending on the number of geocubes used. Mr. Shea said the bonds that were never received would have been in a similar range.

Mr. Shea said that it is believed several of the homeowners who were granted emergency geocube permits are planning to file applications to the Town Zoning Board of Appeals for variances to allow the geocubes to remain in place.

Homeowners granted emergency permits for geocubes and geotubes, long fabric tubes filled with sand, have argued in the past that once the devices have been covered by sand it is more disruptive and harmful to the dunes to remove them than to just leave them in place. The town’s policies against hardened structures, which are blamed for exacerbating the erosion of beaches and damage to adjacent properties, do not accommodate for the use of geocubes just around foundations.

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