To Study the Future of Napeague Inlets

    Should the inlet to Amagansett’s Napeague Harbor be to the west of Hicks Island, a small island at its mouth, as it is now? Should it be to the east, where one existed previously? Or should there be inlets on both sides of the island?
    Land Use Ecological Services, a Riverhead firm, has signed a $20,000 contract with the Peconic Estuary Program to find answers to these persistent questions as they relate to the best way to improve the eelgrass, shellfish, and other life in the harbor.
    But the answers will affect Lazy Point property owners  along Gardiner’s Bay to the west of the harbor, who have seen erosion increase dramatically and blame the west channel as the cause. However, the town’s natural resources director, Larry Penny, sees the causes of erosion as more complex, having to do with the closing of the east channel and natural processes that have been going on for decades.
    Among others, these questions are of prime importance to Steven Grabowski, a resident of Bayview Avenue, which is not far from the harbor. Mr. Grabowski has for some time appeared at the bimonthly meetings of the East Hampton Town Trustees, who are the owners and caretakers of harbor’s bottomland. The trustees would have to agree to any changes in the inlets, as would the State Department of Environmental Conservation.
    The erosion along Gardiner’s Bay in the area has been severe. Two houses to the east of Bayview Avenue, at the end of Mulford Lane, have been lost, and scouring during storms threatens others. A request to build a 160-foot-long stone revetment to armor the beach at Mulford Lane is pending with the town zoning board of appeals.
    Mr. Penny has collected aerial photos and maps of the Napeague Harbor entrances going back to 1787. When viewed up to the present, he said, the harbor’s east channel had been predominant, with the west channel closing periodically due to shoaling. The narrow west channel was dredged in the late 1970s and again in 1988. At that time, the idea was to dredge both entrances to the harbor, but dredging of the east channel was abandoned due to concerns that it would become overused by transient boaters. 
    Like Hicks Island, Goff Point, on the east side of the harbor, has gradually grown larger, causing the east channel to narrow. “Barring a major hurricane of 1938 proportions, and in the absence of maintenance dredging, it can only be presumed that the east channel will eventually close up to the point that it becomes almost nonfuntional,” Mr. Penny wrote in a 2000 report. That has occurred in the 12 years since then. At the time, he also wrote that a closed east channel would “exacerbate the erosive effects . . . [on] Lazy Point.” 
    Closing the west inlet was unlikely, Mr. Penny said on Tuesday. “I don’t think the harbors and navigation code that the Army Corps [of Engineers] works under would allow the closing of an inlet. I think they’d laugh at us. It may close on its own like after the ’38 Hurricane.”
    The town’s position is that both channels should be dredged, and Mr. Penny said that despite the bureacracy, the Army Corps should not be discounted as an agency that could help make it happen. The town has about $30,000 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for excavating the east channel, which is not enough for thorough dredging. Furthermore, he said it was unlikely the money could be used before the Dec. 15 deadline on dredging in the interest of protecting spawning winter flounder.  
    Moreover, Mr. Penny said, whether dredged sand could be put on the eroding Lazy Point beaches was an open question. He said it is “not clear if the trustees own the beach there.”   
    In the meantime, the Peconic Estuary Program’s study  might well turn out to be the fastest track for the desired dredging. The $20,000 for that study comes in part from the Environmental Protection Agency, which is reviewing the work to be done, said Will Bowman of the land use company.
    “We’re looking at natural resources, eelgrass beds, et cetera. We’re also looking at historical locations that have changed through time of the east and west inlets to see if there can be environmental improvements by establishment of an east inlet, to see how this could be done, how many cubic yards of sand might be dredged, where to put it, types of equipment,” Mr. Bowman said.
    “This is doing our homework. Looking at historical data of eelgrass growth, how it has changed over the past several decades and how it related to inlet configuration at the time, to get back to that system that was best.”
    The first job, once the company gets the E.P.A. go-ahead, will be to map the harbor’s bottom contours. “We need to develop a new elevation map in the area as soon as possible. It will become more difficult as weather deteriorates,” Mr. Bowman said.