Trustees Must Clean Up Sand-Sale Procedure

The process has been fraught with controversy

   One thing is clear about the East Hampton Town Trustees: They are the proprietors of a gold mine in the form of sand, which can be dug and sold to oceanfront property owners whose houses are threatened by erosion. How officials have been going about divvying up this increasingly valuable commodity, however, leaves room for improvement.
    In recent years, the trustees have begun selling sand scooped from the seaward bottom of Georgica Pond to contractors, who then resell it by the yard to homeowners. Unfortunately, the process has been fraught with controversy, with allegations about lax bookkeeping, some contractors taking more than their agreed-upon number of cubic yards, and apparently arbitrary choices about who the trustees give contracts to. Like town and village boards, the trustees are obligated to advertise for bids from the companies that do the digging and selling, yet they appear to have drifted away from this procedure, deciding against one applicant for sand because they did not like the cut of his jib.
    New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, which has environmental authority over tidal areas, insists that only clean and “beach-compatible” mined sand can be placed along the shore. This means that sources are extremely limited. The D.E.C. has set a 12,000-cubic-yard annual limit on the amount of sand that can be dug from Georgica Pond; a similar amount has been taken each year at Mecox, which is within Southampton Town Trustee jurisdiction.
    This year, the East Hampton Trustees decided to grant sole access to the Georgica sand to a single contracting company. Another contractor, Billy Mack of First Coastal Corporation, has complained, saying he had believed the trustees would divide the 12,000-cubic-yard allotment among several firms and that the late-hour change left him and his clients with few options. One property owner needs about 10,000 cubic yards alone, Mr. Mack told the trustees at one of their recent meetings.
    If an increase in the amount of sand that can be taken from Georgica Pond is deemed environmentally sound, the Department of Environmental Conservation should agree to allow the East Hampton trustees to sell more to meet emergency needs.
    From where we sit, it appears that the trustees have to come up with a new system of awarding sand contracts that is open to scrutiny, and fair. The money involved is sizable. The demand is not likely to diminish in the foreseeable future. Seat-of-the-pants procedures are no longer good enough.