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October 02, 2013

Countdown To Consensus



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James J. Mackin. (click for larger version)
The sand is slipping through the hourglass at a rapid rate. Last Thursday federal officials advised East Hampton Town lawmakers of a race to secure erosion mitigation and emergency repair funding that could be used for downtown Montauk.

Thanks to a supplemental appropriations bill that created a $5.3 billion fund to pay for hurricane damage in the Northeast, repairs deemed of an emergency nature may be undertaken – if decisions are made quickly and the feds approve them.

"We have a unique opportunity here," Supervisor Bill Wilkinson explained. "The stars are aligned for one time." While shoreline restoration and beach nourishment projects usually call for contributions from varied municipalities – the state, county and town – in this instance the feds will pick up the entire cost of installation, with the county and state on the hook for maintenance in the future.

During a special meeting of the town board last Thursday, Sue McCormick from the Department of Environmental Conservation explained that the emergency repairs program is a spin off from the long aborning Fire Island to Montauk Point program. Alternatives described by Steve Couch from the Army Corps of Engineers were "conceptual" and not cast in stone.

With a standing room only audience present, Couch outlined five separate solutions to erosion that threatens the strip along the beach in downtown Montauk. Two of them – a minimal sand renourishment and a project comprised of groins in the water – had been discussed and rejected years ago. The sand alone was not enough, while the groins struck many community members and environmentalists as too much.

That left three options.

Several times Couch described the first option he outlined as "the most expensive." It entails using sand to create a 90-foot wide beach -- the width needed to provide protection for up to a "hundred year event." Couch said future maintenance costs would be the highest of all the options and estimated them at $1000 per foot. However, the costs of all the alternatives are still being calculated. While the federal government will pay for all start up or installation costs, it won't go forward with a plan unless it's the most cost effective.

Speaking of the "sand alone" option, Couch said that in terms of demonstrating a cost benefit ratio, "It doesn't look like under any scenario we could afford this."

County Legislator Jay Schneiderman felt the next option was cost prohibitive as well. It involves relocating or acquiring buildings along the two-mile strip from South Eton Drive to just east of Surfside Avenue and replacing them with a dune.

If the budget for purchasing hotels and restaurants is $25 million, Schneiderman said Army Corps officials might as well save some time and take the notion off the table. Wilkinson pointed out that, the hotels' cache is attached to their ocean frontage. He also observed that the higher the project's price tag, the less enthused the feds are going to be.

Couch dubbed the last option, a sand-covered sea wall, the most cost effective. A "reinforced dune" made out of stones and sand would provide a line of protection just south of the hotels, with a 35-foot wide beach in front of the revetment. It could be designed so that the stone is never exposed, Couch said. Though he knew of no such seawall elsewhere on Long Island, Couch said they have been built on other locations in the country.

A report outlining each alternative will be drafted for review by the town board by November. Once a consensus is reached, a final report will include the recommendation.

So far on Long Island Montauk and Fire Island have been dubbed most vulnerable and in need to shoreline repair. In the race for federal funding, Fire Island is ahead of East Hampton Town because officials there have already reached an agreement regarding how to proceed.

kmerrill@indyeastend.com

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