First Coastal Explains Why Downtown Montauk Should Get a Bigger Beach Restoration Project

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Aram Terchunian of First Coastal Corporation, a Westhampton Beach consulting firm, on Tuesday presented the East Hampton Town Board with an explanation of his firm’s cost-benefit analysis for the proposed U.S. Army Corps of Engineers beach replenishment project for downtown Montauk.

Last week, the town released the study, which concluded that there are $238.8 million in total benefits to be derived from the Army Corps project, which is more than double what the Army Corps has committed to the hamlet.

The replenishment project is a short-term solution until the longer-term Fire Island to Montauk Point Reformulation Study—a regional plan to bolster the south shore beaches against erosion—is completed.

Mr. Terchunian said that with local knowledge and “boots on the ground,” his firm was better able to give a more realistic account of what assets downtown Montauk has and has been protecting, and therefore able to show a higher benefit to having a bigger replenishment project done.

He said the Army Corps had calculated $103.8 million in benefits for the proposed project, so to figure out the total benefits, First Coastal looked at costs avoided, which is the cost of dune and building repairs from the area between 2010 and 2013, and damages avoided, which is the calculation of the buildings, structures and infrastructure that would be protected by the proposed project.

He said Montauk’s building and dune repairs totaled $2.8 million between 2010 and 2013, and $236 million in damages avoided if the proposed project were to be built.

Mr. Terchunian said that the Army Corps was less thorough than First Coastal when tallying the damages avoided benefit and did not figure out a cost avoided benefit.

To find the cost of repairs and avoided damages, First Coastal said it looked at 43 structures, equaling 411,154 square feet of finished space, whereas the Army Corps identified only 338,300 square feet within the 43 structures.

A series of interviews with local contractors, developers and motel owners, showed that the construction costs in Montauk are substantially more, $425 to $475 per square foot, than the Army Corps had estimated, $160 to $178 per square foot. Mr. Terchunian said that the Army Corps applied the cost of construction in 2005 in Riverhead to Montauk. “It doesn’t reflect the reality on this site,” he said. “Montauk has tremendous material and labor constraints. Riverhead has rail, highway and air. We have Montauk Highway.”

He said the Army Corps agreed to let First Coastal find a third-party index to adjust the cost to Montauk to find the benefit. So far, it’s looking up. “We’ve identified a 50-percent increase in benefits that meet the Corps’s criteria,” he said. “That would mean you could undertake a project with 50-percent higher value.”

He said, however, it would be unlikely that First Coastal could find sufficient evidence that would justify adding a suggested 155,000 cubic yards of sand to the project, since dredging sand is more costly than trucking it in. The Army Corps proposes trucking in 45,000 cubic yards of sand.

He added it would be near impossible to get a larger project done in one construction season, which is 90 days in the spring and fall. He said, however, money and time could be saved if the sand is stockpiled nearby in Montauk.

Some have called for Ditch Plains to be added to the project, but Mr. Terchunian said that the New York District only has so much wiggle room, but suggested the town be ready when it’s time to negotiate.

“Our job, my job, and one of your new hats is going to be discovering every possible method of getting benefits in front of them that they’re ready to accept,” he said. “Find a way to fit it into the process as you move along and be ready. Have all the information and be ready to give it to them.”

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