Army Corps Ups Its Numbers

The Army Corps of Engineers has agreed to adjust its estimated value of the benefits of rebuilding a stretch of downtown Montauk beach — and thus the potential extent of a beach reconstruction project it will undertake, at federal expense — by half again as much as its original $103.8 million estimate, Aram Terchunian of First Coastal Corporation told the East Hampton Town Board this week.

Additional revisions may be forthcoming, said Mr. Terchunian, based on further analysis.

At the town’s request, Mr. Terchunian undertook an independent review of the factors considered by the Corps in determining the cost-benefit ratio of its projects.

Overall, First Coastal set the value of protecting downtown Montauk from the effects of devastating storms at more than $238 million, but several factors the consultants included are not among the Corps’s relevant components.

On several fronts, Mr. Terchunian said at a meeting on Tuesday, his more in-depth, “boots on the ground” analysis resulted in a higher economic benefit than what the Army Corps tallied, and, after discussions with Corps representatives, he said, the federal agency has agreed.

For instance, Mr. Terchunian said, First Coastal’s inventory of properties — infrastructure and buildings — within the Corps’s identified potential “damage zone” in downtown Montauk, an area extending about 80 feet shoreward along 3,100 feet of coastline, resulted in more square footage and a higher value to the real estate and associated services.

The Corps used information compiled in its examination of the entire 84-mile stretch of coastline from Fire Island to Montauk that it has been considering for beach reconstruction under its decades-long Fire Island to Montauk Point reformulation study, Mr. Terchunian said.

By pointing out some local details, the consultant said, such as higher prices here for the construction materials that would be needed to replace buildings lost in a storm, versus those in Riverhead, the locale on which the Corps based its estimates, Mr. Terchunian was able to convince the agency to make the changes.

However, he said, the Corps will not include in its economic analysis the value of land lost in a storm, or potential income loss — a big factor for owners of seasonal, tourist-based businesses in Montauk that could be threatened by storm damage.

Mr. Terchunian said that discussions with the federal agency are ongoing, and that the goal is to agree to a final economic analysis for submission for Corps review next week, along with recommendations as to what sort of project should be built and how.

“It’s always better for the local entity to be intimately involved in the investigation,” Mr. Terchunian said. “Because local knowledge always trumps what somebody’s doing on 84 miles of shoreline.”

Bureaucratic policies and decision-making procedures limit the area under consideration by the Corps to the downtown beach, he said, in answer to a question about including the Ditch Plain area in a beach-rebuilding project.

However, he advised the board that it would be a good idea to have an economic benefit analysis ready to submit for the Corps’s review when the Ditch area is considered under a broader authorization for non-emergency beach repair. The town already has an excellent engineering study of the flood-prone area, done years ago, the consultant said.

While some suggested that it is only logical to look at the Montauk shoreline in its entirety when developing a beach protection and reconstruction plan, Mr. Terchunian said that the Corps is constrained by its myriad regulations.

The agency “wants to do the right thing,” he said, “but they are so hemmed in by their process that they have zero flexibility.”