As the East End shakes off the last shudders of a stormy winter and chilly spring, most residents are getting their first up-close look at the six miles of newly rebuilt beaches in Bridgehampton, Water Mill and Sagaponack.
Where the ocean had swirled around foundations and washed away public bathing beaches during 2012’s Hurricane Sandy, there is now a broad and sandy beach.
Though still in its infancy—work was only completed in January—the so-called beach nourishment project is being touted as a resounding success and a model for oceanfront communities looking to stem the effects of beach erosion and rising sea levels.
For four months, from October 2013 to January 2014, a small army of engineers armed with a 300-foot-long hydraulic dredging barge moored in the ocean off Bridgehampton braved frigid temperatures to pump millions of tons of sand from the sea floor a mile offshore and onto the beaches, a $26 million effort paid for primarily by the 125 residents who own property along the oceanfront.
The homeowners say they have bought storm protection for their hyper-valuable assets with a wider beach that is fortifying itself every day. Already, strategically arranged wooden fencing along the landward edge of the beach has begun capturing sand and growing new dunes.
“The project exceeded even our own high expectations,” said Jeff Lignelli, a Bridgehampton homeowner who spearheaded the nearly six-year effort to organize his oceanfront neighbors into agreeing to fund the gargantuan undertaking. “It’s my view that the Hamptons should have the best beaches in the country, and I think we’ve achieved that in Sagaponack and Bridgehampton.”
The beaches along most of the stretch of new shoreline, from Flying Point in Water Mill to Townline Road in Sagaponack, are up to 140 feet wider than they were early last autumn. Through the summer they are expected to grow even wider as sand that was scoured away by storm waves over the winter is carried ashore again by gentle waves.
Over time, absent the onslaught of a hurricane, the project’s designers say the beaches will settle in at about 100 feet in width, typical of Long Island’s shoreline, but will build themselves higher above sea level, accrete natural dunes and create a gradual slope in the surf zone that should dampen the onslaught of storm-driven waves.
“One of the things we look for is the quality of the surf break,” said Tim Kana, Ph.D., owner of Coastal Science & Engineering, the South Carolina-based engineering firm that designed and oversaw the project. “We’re very pleased with the form of the waves. We like to see sandbars and shallow troughs immediately off the sloping, dry beach.”
As other communities on the East End debate whether or not to undertake similar beach nourishment projects, residents and officials say the Sagaponack-Bridgehampton effort is a template for a possible way to get things done.
“If you look at West Hampton Dunes, and the way they rebuilt their dunes and how well they fared during Sandy, it is the poster child for how and why to do this,” said Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst, who pushed to get the more recent project pushed through in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. “Science today tells you this is the only line of defense we have. Any part of the coastal frontage that wants to build a level of resilience is likely going to have to look at this kind of thing at some point.”
In Quogue, Dune Road residents and the village have been trying to decide whether to tackle a beach nourishment project along their nearly three miles of beach. In Montauk, residents and business owners have called for a beach rebuilding on the scale of the Sagaponack-Bridgehampton effort along the downtown business district. They have asked that it be paid for by the government, with Sandy relief funding, but have been disappointed with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers assessment that the project is too costly to be worthwhile.
Mr. Lignelli, who will personally pay more than $200,000 over the next decade—the life of the bonds—to help fund the beach nourishment project in eastern Southampton Town, said that wherever such projects are conducted, the oceanfront property owners should be expected to foot most of the cost, and see it as a bargain.
“Beachfront homes have tremendous value and when the beaches are repaired, that value increase goes to the homeowners,” Mr. Lignelli said. “Everyone who owns homes on the beach has the money to pay for this. Nobody is crying poverty on the oceanfront.”
That project is being paid for through 10-year municipal bonds taken out by Southampton Town. The town, which owns five public beaches within the project zone, contributed approximately $1.5 million toward the work from dedicated park fees collected from housing developers. The rest of the bond is being paid back with revenues from taxes collected from the oceanfront homeowners. Those homeowners voted in 2010 to create special taxing districts over their properties, specifically to fund the beach nourishment work.
The homeowners in Bridgehampton, Water Mill and Sagaponack will pay between $1,000 and more than $250,000 in annual assessments—more than $2 million in total for the largest property owners—to finance the first beach nourishment project. And, Mr. Lignelli said, the homeowners see their contribution to maintaining the beach continuing in perpetuity. By the time the current project bonds are paid off, he noted, he expects funds for additional nourishment to be in place, or for a reserve fund to be created for when more sand is needed in the future.
“My expectation is that we will try to do a project every 10 years—in some form,” he said. “This erosion control district has essentially created a long-term entity to preserve the beaches for everyone.”