Just in time for the beginning of the bathing and sunbathing season, Ditch Plain, one of East Hampton Town’s most popular beaches, will be, at least technically, off-limits to swimming.
The dangerous uncovering of rock and hard-pan surface there is a cautionary example of what usually happens immediately down-drift of erosion-control structures. In this case, the most likely suspect is a long revetment, or sea wall, immediately to the east of the Ditch Plain beach itself. Placed to protect the mobile homes at Montauk Shores Condominium long ago, the rocks were greatly expanded and added to after Hurricane Sandy and the storms that followed.
Typically, beaches adjacent to such “shore-hardening” structures suffer increased damage from what experts describe as a scouring effect. What this means is that unprotected stretches can see more, and worse, losses than had the coast remained untouched. While the sand may well reappear at Ditch when the usual summer southwesterlies come up, at this point that is wishful thinking.
Unfortunately, overwhelmed and hapless state and local officials are allowing the same thing to happen elsewhere in Montauk without the benefit of sound science-based study or even the common sense that might have come from looking around at places where such things have been tried. At least one motel owner put in a row of concrete septic rings on an emergency basis; they are supposed to be removed some day, but as far as we know, no remove-by date was specified. No one knows how they will affect nearby properties, including two other public bathing beaches, because no one asked.
Now, with the eager acquiescence of the East Hampton Town Board, the town’s strict coastal law may be rewritten to allow permanent sea walls where none had been before. In the absence of independent, top-quality professional review this is just plain wrong. Long Island’s shoreline has had more than enough of such amateur engineering, and residents, government employees, and elected representatives at all levels should know better by now.
Back at the Montauk Shores Condominium, surfers, fishers, beachcombers, and others are taking notice. Where once at low tide you could walk east from the so-called trailer park parking lot, the newly expanded rock wall now makes that impossible. This is a staggering failure by those charged with maintaining access across traditionally open sections of shoreline. Unfortunately, it is also a shameful sign of things to come if those in positions of authority continue to put private property interests before the public’s right to use and enjoy the beach.