January 26, 2011
Could Main Street Wash Away?
By Rick Murphy
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Montauk's Main Street is the epicenter of the town's resort business, generating about $150 million a year in business. But after years of being battered by ocean storms and accelerating erosion that is swallowing chunks of beach, the inevitable lurks: Main Street is in danger of being swallowed by the sea.
It's no longer just a dire vision for the future, East Hampton Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson said. "I'm worried about Nick's Beach now," he said of the beach off South Edison where the new public restrooms were built. "That's where the first breach will happen, I think."
"I don't think people have a full understanding of just how precarious it is," said Assemblyman Fred Thiele, who recently toured the beaches with Wilkinson.
Steve Kalimnios, the proprietor of Royal Atlantic beach resort, has watched the beach shrink for over 40 years and spent $1 million to stave off the charging waves.
"Probably in my lifetime 150-200 feet has disappeared," he said. "As a kid it was a long hike down to the water. Over the years it was a gradual slope. Now it's gone."
Kalimnios has stairs going down from his establishment to the beach, "They've been wiped out several times." Now he says, they go down to a platform, and then another set descends to the beach. "We lose them every year," he said. Kalimnios has a 10 year maintenance permit to restore the beach. Over the years he's trucked in "hundreds of thousands of yards of sand" to restore the beach.
Those waiting for federal intervention will end up in the drink, Wilkinson said. The Fire Island to Montauk erosion study has been going on for years, he noted. And the Army Corps of Engineers "is a dog and pony show."
Kalimnios said the study "Has been going on for 40 or 50 years. They haven't even started talking about money yet."
There is only one solution, which has been bandied about for some time: a 20-foot high dune, stretching the length of Montauk's hotel zone. It would cost, Kalimnios estimated, between $5 and $6 million, plus annual upkeep.
"We could devise a tax district," to pay for it, Wilkinson suggested, "and we have to change the way we build."
Thiele said building a dune "Might be too expensive, beyond the means of those affected."
"The people of Montauk have to draw a line and take a stand," said Kalimnios, who is in favor of forming a tax district. "The only solution is sand."
Wilkinson and Thiele also discussed a related problem – the recent storms have made it difficult for boats to get in and out of the Montauk Inlet on the north side of the village. In fact, one fishing boat waited nine hours for high tide. Wilkinson said the fishing boats will proceed to Point Judith, Rhode Island to dump their catch, causing Montauk to lose revenue. A group of nearby homeowners have filed suits against the state, town county, and Army corps, alleging improperly installed jetties have intensified the erosion.
Thiele said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers could take emergency action, dredge the Montauk Inlet, and place the dredge material on the beach to the west of the Inlet.
"It's an interim step," noted Thiele. "It's funny they will help you after a storm but won't spend money to prevent damage."
Thiele pointed out we've been lucky to avoid tropical storms and hurricanes the past few years. "Something is going to happen," he warned. "It's inevitable."
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