The East Hampton Town Trustees have been working overtime to respond to the ever-increasing number of applications from homeowners wishing to hold back the sea. The devil is in the details, and patience often grows as thin as the beach.
Beginning in early November following the punishing visit of megastorm Sandy on Oct. 29, the nine-member board that oversees most of East Hampton’s beaches has received dozens of applications to construct and fix broken stone revetments, rebuild lost dunes, and buttress broken bulkheads. A blizzard of applications continues to descend on the board. This is in part the result of their complaints that the town’s zoning board of appeals was failing to forward applications dealing with trustee lands.
“That’s okay. At least we know what’s going on,” Joe Bloecker, a trustee, said of the forwarded applications, many of them marked for “expedited administrative natural resources special permits.”
On Saturday Mr. Bloecker attended an emergency meeting of the trustees called in order to keep pace with the flood of paper while maintaining the board’s scrutiny of projects. Experience has taught them that rebuilds tend to expand beyond initial footprints — often onto East Hampton’s public beaches.
“We’re stretching ourselves with extra meetings and extra inspections to get this accomplished,” Mr. Bloecker said. He said the board was keeping a keen eye on construction parameters to make sure private property does not creep seaward onto public beach at the same time the sea is stealing landward.
Heretofore, trustees met twice each month. In February they gathered to pore over applications three times, with many more inspections undertaken by the board’s various committees. There have been three formal meetings already this month.
At Saturday’s emergency meeting, four applications for beach restoration between Georgica and Main Beach were approved.
The greater part of Tuesday night’s meeting was taken up with issues related to erosion control. Three applications from Amagansett sought permission to rebuild dunes on the ocean side. Four other applications, including one from the billionaire Mortimer Zuckerman, were for dune restoration on the beach in the Georgica area, and another three have come in for bluff reconstruction at Hedges Banks on the bay side.
Sandy and the punishing series of northeast storms that followed her have tested the trustees’ patience as well as their stamina.
On Tuesday night, Martha Reichert of Richard Whelan’s LandMarks land planning firm came to represent the Nedenia Hartley Trust of West Dune Road in an application to rebuild and replant lost dunes. She was told, “We want to see the area restored, but we want to see the southerly extent of the beach grass line.” The deed to the property states that the seaward boundary was the beach grass line, but the trustees pointed out that the line was not shown on the survey attached to the application.
In pressing for approval of the project given the time restraint posed by the opening on March 31 of the piping plover window (when beach construction must cease to protect the endangered birds), Ms. Reichert noted — as many applicants do — that the owner had already received an okay from the State Department of Environmental Conservation.
“Yes, but the D.E.C. doesn’t have to worry about the people’s beach,” responded Stephanie Forsberg, a trustee.
Trustees said they would try to expedite the application, but insisted that they get a survey showing the beach grass line “before the planting starts,” so that the dune restoration project did not result in usurpation of public beach.
Then there was the case of Eileen Raffo, who owns a house on Shore Road at Lazy Point on the Gardiner’s Bay side of Napeague. Like all Lazy Point residents, Ms. Raffo owns her house, but not the land under it. The land is owned by the trustees on behalf of the East Hampton public. Ms. Raffo raised the height of a bulkhead in front of her house without the trustees’ okay. She was brought on the carpet.
“We were concerned last April with the height of the wall, then you raised it three times higher. Looking out your window you see a wall protecting your house. We see a bulkhead on our beach,” Ms. Forsberg scolded.
The Lazy Point resident attempted to defend herself by blaming the D.E.C., which had given her permission to build the bulkhead to seven feet after the trustees denied her request to build it to four feet. It didn’t work.
Diane McNally, the trustees’ presiding officer, told Ms. Raffo: “We’re looking at maybe the most difficult decision we’ve ever made. We may be looking at relocating the house. We don’t want to see little projects that hurt the beach. It’s becoming not the public’s property. That was the intent. We’re not happy with this. You’ve got to take the bulkhead down to where it was when you bought the house.”
Then came the “elephant in the room,” in the words of Deborah Klughers, another trustee. The elephant was the fact that Billy Mack of the First Coastal engineering company had allowed a pile of sandy loam bound for a bluff reconstruction at Hedges Banks to be dumped at the Ely Brook Road end in Northwest, where it remained, much to the consternation of local residents, for nearly three weeks. Mr. Mack blamed extremely high tides from recent storms that kept a heavy machine from delivering the material to the project site. That excuse didn’t work either.
“Unless you use it that day, don’t dump it,” Stephen Lester instructed Mr. Mack.
On March 28 and March 29, the trustees will remove debris from the Louse Point Nature Preserve in cooperation with fishermen and other volunteers starting at 8 a.m. both days. The debris to be removed includes abandoned boats and related gear. Anyone whose property has been left on the beach at Louse Point in Springs should retrieve it prior to March 28. Otherwise it will be disposed of.