Federal Money Sought for Montauk Beach

Officials press for cut of $50 billion Sandy aid
Representative Peter King, center, with a group of Long Island residents and people involved with the post-Sandy restoration effort who traveled to Washington on Tuesday for the House of Representative's vote on a $50.7 billion hurricane relief package. Doug Kuntz

    The outlook for Montauk’s threatened oceanfront improved Monday with the passage in the House of Representatives of $50.7 billion in Hurricane Sandy aid. The measure moves now to the Senate, where its approval appears certain.
    Representative Tim Bishop, whose district includes East Hampton and Southampton Towns, said that he had been in a preliminary conversation with representatives of the Army Corps of Engineers to argue that the row of motels along Montauk’s south-facing beach needed immediate protection.
    “I am pushing very hard for beach nourishing,” he said. “The infrastructure is imperiled.”
    The Atlantic beachfront along Montauk’s main business district was sharply eroded during Hurricane Sandy on Oct. 29, then suffered again during an early northeaster about a week later. Most of the protective dunes along a roughly half-mile-long stretch were clawed away. Efforts by resort and condominium owners there to shore up their properties have been ongoing.
    In an interview yesterday Mr. Bishop said that the House bill contained $1 billion for flood control and coastal emergencies and would pay for up to 100 percent of projects approved by the Army Corps of Engineers.
    “The immediate need in Montauk is an emergency, at least in my opinion, and it’s my job to convince the Corps of that,” he said.
    He said that he was going to look at needs on the entirety of Long Island, with particular interest in Montauk. Any quick restoration on the Montauk oceanfront this year would be a stopgap, he said, “but we need to get some sand on the beach right now.”
    Mr. Bishop said that a separate portion of the Sandy relief package would make money available to local governments for projects intended to reduce coastal hazards over the long term. Up to 7.5 percent of each state’s share of the $50.7 billion package could be made available. It would be up to village and town governments to apply to the State Office of Emergency Management, which would manage grant applications for federal funding.
    Under the terms of the long-term hazard-reduction portion of the bill, local governments would contribute 25 percent of the cost of projects, Mr. Bishop said.
    “There is time to prepare a really, really good, well-thought-out application,” he said.
    He said that Brian Beedenbender, his district office director, and Oliver Longwell, his communications director, had begun meeting with every mayor and town supervisor in the First Congressional District to brief them on the process. They met with East Hampton Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson last Thursday to discuss the Montauk erosion, Mr. Longwell said.
    In all, the Army Corps is set to receive $5.35 billion, Mr. Bishop’s office said in a press release yesterday. Of that, $3.5 billion would be for repairs to ongoing projects damaged by Sandy, and $821 million for dredging and maintaining navigation channels.
    Other provisions in the package include $11.5 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster relief fund, $5.5 billion for the Federal Transit Administration, $16 billion in community development block grants, and $780 million in small-business recovery loans.
    Mr. Bishop said that he had had a good response from the federal agencies so far. “In the wake of the storm they were able to mobilize a dredge to close two of the breaches along the South Shore — put sand onto the beach — within three to four weeks.”
    Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. said in an e-mail yesterday that he, like Mr. Bishop, had been focused on the portion of the package appropriating money to the Army Corps.
    “I spoke with Tim Bishop several times about this, including this morning,” he said. “We both agree that our primary push will be for downtown Montauk. That is the portion of my district that needs immediate attention and is most vulnerable to future storms. We would be looking for a beach nourishment project — not any hard structures.”
    Mr. Thiele said that he hoped the Army Corps would agree to an emergency project for Montauk similar to that approved for Tiana Beach in Hampton Bays and to close post-Sandy breaches in the barrier beach near Cupsogue on Dune Road in Westhampton Beach.
    In East Hampton Town, Len Bernard, the town budget officer, said that officials were in the process of applying for $400,000 in first-round funding. An example was the restoration of Gerard Drive in Springs, which was heavily damaged during Sandy. He said that there was approximately $2.5 million in damages to town properties from the storm and that he hoped to get as much as three-quarters of that reimbursed.
    Rosemarie Cary Winchell, the Sagaponack clerk and treasurer, said yesterday that she anticipated that the village would not seek funding. She said that the village did not suffer significant damage, as it does not have all that much public property. Seven private houses were lost in the storm, she said, as well as dunes and beaches. A bath house owned by the Town of Southampton was damaged.
    Steve Kalimnios, the owner of the Royal Atlantic resort in Montauk, which, along with neighboring hotels, has been undermined by storms with increasing frequency, said, “I’m ecstatic if the enthusiasm for some kind of beach project turns into dollars. I’m cautiously optimistic. This is good news that it’s being recognized as an emergency.”
    Jeremy Samuelson, executive director of the Concerned Citizens of Montauk environmental group, said, “I think everyone is of the same mind at this point about the need for short-term, medium-term, and long-range solutions to downtown Montauk’s vulnerability. This might be an opportunity to accelerate the process, to get sand on the beach. Everyone would be supportive of that, including C.C.O.M.”
    Mr. Samuelson went on to stress the importance of getting the maximum benefit of any federal money. “If it’s done the right way, it would increase the natural barrier, giving us years of protection, but it comes down to design. You need the insight of people who know about it.”
    Larry Cantwell, the East Hampton Village administrator, said that a recent letter from the village to Mr. Bishop asked that he help find a way to restore eroded beach and dunes in the Georgica area.
    “A couple things are going on. My conversations with FEMA about Main Beach and Georgica — some sand replenishment might be possible, even though those are not ‘engineered’ beaches, normally a requirement of Army Corps reconstruction. This may make this even more likely. If the funding is approved, it’s huge,” Mr. Cantwell said.
With Reporting by Joanne Pilgrim and Carrie Ann Salvi