“The people of Wainscott are suffering. I don’t have enough sand,” Billy Mack of the First Coastal company told the East Hampton Town Trustees last week. The coastal engineer appeared at the trustees’ regular monthly meeting on Jan. 8 to request a supply of sand excavated from the seaward end of Georgica Pond.
Both fine-grained beach sand and clean “beach-compatible” sand that includes coarser grains from sand mines are becoming harder to come by.
First Coastal has been hired by beachfront residents of Wainscott to reconstruct dunes stripped from in front of their properties by the series of storms that began with megastorm Sandy on Oct. 29.
Coastal storms have been so rapacious of late that the heavy-equipment companies that haul and shape it into replacement dunes — the only defenses that some homeowners have left — are suffering from sand deprivation. And, it’s not just a question of money.
The homeowners in question, the billionaire Ronald Lauder among them, can afford to replace dunes again and again, and with sand in short supply, it doesn’t come cheap. The trustees, who own and manage Georgica Pond on behalf of the East Hampton public, charge a flat rate of $7.50 per cubic yard of sandy bottomland excavated from the pond. Southampton Town Trustees charge about the same for sand taken from Mecox Bay. Contractors purchase the sand and add their cost for hauling and shaping it into new dunes.
The system has worked well in the past, but the frequency of storms, the legal restrictions placed on mining sand from coastal ponds, and the absence of other sand sources is leaving some of the most prized and valuable real estate in the country extremely vulnerable.
During last week’s meeting, Mr. Mack complained that the trustees had departed from their usual procedure for distributing sand excavated from the pond.
The arrangement between the Department of Environmental Conservation, the agency that oversees coastal development, including erosion control, for the state, and the trustees, who claim ownership of East Hampton’s beaches and bottomlands as well as legislative authority over their use, is a tricky one.
The question of final authority over the excavation of sand from Georgica Pond is a sleeping dog that both agencies have let lie. As a result, the amount of sand that can be taken and when is negotiated between the D.E.C. and the East Hampton Town Department of Natural Resources. In recent years, the D.E.C. has permitted a total of 12,000 cubic yards to be taken each year. Efforts are being made to increase the amount.
The demand for sand is such that the trustees have struggled to come up with a system to both sell it and divvy it up among competing contractors. Auctioning it to the highest bidder was tried, but the bidding process became unwieldy. It also required hiring a person to count truckloads.
This year the trustees decided to sell the first, and possibly the only, 12,000 yards this year for a flat rate to one contractor, the Patrick Bistrian company.
Because of differences between the Georgica Association and the trustees regarding access to the pond along the beach (the stretch between Beach Lane in Wainscott and the pond is one of the rare instances where private beach ownership predates formation of the trustees in 1686), the Bistrian company dealt directly with the Georgica Association.
Last week, Mr. Mack took exception to the policy change. “It will take 25 days of hauling to do what we need to do. We’re on a tight schedule. The situation at Wainscott Pond is precarious,” Mr. Mack said, referring to a section of beach near the Lauder property that had been so narrowed by erosion that there was danger of an ocean breach. A cottage on the property has already been consumed by the sea. Mr. Mack said he would need 10,000 cubic yards to spread over three of the properties there.
He accused the nine-member trustees of being “unresponsive” to his calls asking for Georgica sand. “I thought the trustees had a new policy where they would divvy up the Georgica sand between the contractors that needed it for $7.50 a cubic yard. They changed it without the public knowing and left the people in Wainscott in the lurch.”
“There is serious danger of flooding. Why wasn’t I considered?” he asked.
Mr. Mack was told that his firm was not chosen as the sole contractor to buy Georgica sand because it had a history of bypassing trustee permit requirements — “so we went with the other guy,” Diane McNally, the trustee clerk, said.
Trustees told the contractor that a condition of a permit to allow First Coastal to start the Wainscott dune restoration work was the removal of geo-cubes, large sandbags, that were permitted to be used as a seawall, but only temporarily.
Not all of the sandbags had been removed as of last week’s meeting, trustees said, another black mark, one that again slowed the pace of dune restoration.
William Fleming, attorney for several of the Wainscott property owners, criticized the slow pace of the trustees’ approval process in a strongly worded letter the trustees this week. First Coastal was granted a go-ahead on Tuesday night.
But then there’s the sand itself. The D.E.C. allows dunes to be rebuilt using beach-compatible sand. However, Sean McCaffrey, a trustee, said on Tuesday, “There’s the D.E.C.’s version of beach-compatible sand. Ours is different. We think clean sand. The D.E.C. allows a mixture” of beach-type sand and larger sand mined from quarries. “People wouldn’t want to lie on it,” Mr. McCaffrey said.
Also Tuesday, Mr. Mack said First Coastal was “piecing together sand” from a few different sources, including Mecox Bay. “The trustees have conditioned that we use only beach sand, instead of beach-compatible. It makes it harder to secure sand. It seems like they’re picking on somebody. They are placing a tremendous number of hoops to go through to restore the dunes,” Mr. Mack said.