Homeowners Seek Permission to Save Louse Point Houses

Christopher Walsh

An emotional discussion about the value of armoring bayfront beaches dominated a meeting of the East Hampton Town Trustees on Tuesday. The debate was prompted by an application from four Louse Point Road, Springs, property owners who seek to stabilize the toe of the bluffs facing Gardiner’s Bay with a rock revetment. Diane Mcnally, however, the trustees’ presiding officer, argued that rocks placed at the toe of the bluff may not be effective and asked that the applicants expore alternatives.

The application says recent storms have claimed some 20 feet of bluff and proposes to cover the revetment with sand and to plant with beach grass. The bluff would be further stabilized by being planted with other native species and by diverting stormwater runoff at its top.

John and Anne Mullen have attended several trustees’ meetings in the past several months, sometimes accompanied by Charles Voorhis of the firm Nelson, Pope and Voorhis. On Tuesday, the Mullens delivered an impassioned plea for approval, citing what they call an urgent need to act before their house is gravely threatened by another extreme weather event.

Mr. Mullen distributed an aerial photograph that showed 4,500 feet of shoreline. He said that the beach in front of his house and those of the adjacent property owners, across a span of 560 feet, is the only section of  shoreline there not protected by revetments or bulkheads. “We think this request is very reasonable,” he said.

The trustees remain basically opposed to hard structures, asserting that they ultimately lead to the loss of beach. Nevertheless, before the meeting was over, they indicated willingness to consider approving the project despite their fear that it would lead to the disappearance of the public beach, which they oversee on behalf of the public.

Mr. Voorhis read a letter from Thomas Lynch, another of the four property owners, who, Mr. Voorhis said, was a 30-year employee of the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation. The letter read: “I want to assure you that our proposed long-term solution would secure the public resource of beach while protecting and stabilizing the bluff.” Over time, bulkheads and revetments have been constructed there despite the town’s Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan, adopted in 1999, which said hard structures should be prohibited and sand placed there from the dredging of Accabonac Harbor. Yet no sand was ever placed there, Mr. Lynch wrote.

“Because of past decisions and precedents, our property is literally caught between a rock and a bulkheaded hard place. The winter storm of 2010 and Superstorm Sandy in 2012, with its six-foot storm surge, proved that any soft solution without toe or slope reinforcement would be pointless . . . . Now it is time for me to act to protect my property.” The letter went on to say that if two more similar storms occurred, his “deck would likely collapse and the house foundation would be jeopardized.” 

Ms. McNally, however, said the aerial photograph demonstrated that the beach had eroded where hard structures had been constructed but was wide where there are none. Ms. McNally displayed her own aerial photograph, saying it depicted another shoreline demonstrating the same phenomenon.

Mr. Mullen disputed her claim. The wider beach, he said, illustrates the retreat of the bluff in front of his property. He added that a family house in Mississippi was lost to Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and said, “If the theory from the trustees is that our property is to be a sacrificial sand pile to continuously feed a beach, we disagree with that. We own that property, we paid a lot of money for it, and we pay a hell of a tax because it’s waterfront property. And to just watch it drift away does not seem either legal or fair.”

Mr. Voorhis said his firm had used the proposed method elsewhere with success. “The stone revetment at the base will withstand those storms,” he said. “We feel this is the right solution for this specific location.”

“To have a permanent solution, you have to have the hard toe” of the bluff, Mr. Mullen said, along with a properly sloped, planted, and maintained top. “We wish there was a real soft solution,” he said, “but we are totally convinced that ‘soft solution’ is an oxymoron.”

Mr. Mullen said that he and his wife acknowledge the importance of public access, but, he said, “The locals tell me the beach comes and goes. In our case, we’re focused on the going.”