Town Dubious of Army Corps's Montauk Inlet Plan

Montauk inlet options include Soundview groins, but many call for sand only
The Army Corps of Engineers has offered a number of options for building up and protecting the beach west of the Lake Montauk inlet. Durell Godfrey

As the Army Corps of Engineers finishes its $8.4 million project on the downtown Montauk beach — a 3,100-foot-long line of buried sandbags designed to stop a storm surge — public discussion is turning to the next endeavor the Army Corps has proposed for Montauk, an effort to build up and protect the beach west of the Lake Montauk inlet facing Block Island Sound, which would include dredging the inlet to aid navigation.

Possibilities, according to a corps presentation to town officials and the public last month, could include the installation of several groins made of the same sand-filled plastic fabric bags that are buried at the downtown beach.

The corps has asked the town to indicate its interest in one of the several options it outlined, with various scenarios regarding the volume of sand to be added to the beach, its origin, future upkeep, and, in some, the potential construction of the groins to trap and hold the sand.

But while the town board accepted the Army Corps’s design for the downtown beach despite a ban on oceanfront shore-hardening structures (such as the sandbags) in the local waterfront protection plan, a state-approved document outlining coastal policy, officials appear to have concluded that new groins along the shore at Soundview Avenue near the inlet are unacceptable.

“A number of these alternatives don’t meet the regulatory requirements with regard to the L.W.R.P. Groins, in my opinion, don’t qualify,” Town Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc said at a board meeting on Tuesday.

Several speakers at the meeting also endorsed rejecting groins. “We should be careful in jumping into this,” said Bill Horner of the Culloden Shores Association, a group representing residents of the shoreline area.

“I hope the board will give serious consideration to alternatives to the groin field that’s been proposed. I hope that you will take a very cautious approach,” said Jay Levine of the Surfrider Foundation.

Kevin McAllister of Defend H2O, a coastal scientist, advised against “placing groins without certainty as to their effectiveness.” Groins, he said, would affect the beaches at the Culloden area, downdrift from where they would be installed. Details, such as the quality of the sand to be placed on the beach, and how wide the bolstering will make the beach, should be carefully assessed, Mr. McAllister said.

Jeremy Samuelson, the executive director of Concerned Citizens of Montauk, urged the board to have the Army Corps explore sand-only options. Along with the other speakers, he said a sand-bypass system, through which sand that naturally moves from east to west would be directed away from the inlet and onto the eroding beach, should be explored.

Brian Frank, an East Hampton Town planner, outlined the plans that the Army Corps had presented to the town. Board members agreed to continue discussion with the Army Corps about only the options that do not call for groins.

“I certainly don’t want to violate our L.W.R.P.,” Councilwoman Syvia Overby said.

State and local officials had concluded that the downtown sandbag installation was allowed under an exemption from L.W.R.P. regulations for emergencies; that provision calls for their removal after a specified time period.

The downtown Montauk buried sandbag wall, surrounded by fencing and crossed over by elevated wooden walkways at four locations, with one vehicle access onto the beach to be paved with concrete and another covered with railroad gravel, was vehemently opposed by people who protested on the beach and subjected themselves to arrest in the fall and by a coalition that sued unsuccessfully to stop the project, of which Mr. McAllister was a part.

As rain poured down last week, concern and criticism also surged. In the rain, combined with a high tide and full moon, the surf lapped at the edge of the fenced-in, sandbagged area, and water being channeled into a pipe through the sandbag barrier onto the beach at Lowenstein Court to enable road runoff to drain from the Montauk streets backed up and ponded behind the sandbag wall, which kept it from dissipating naturally.

Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell said this week that he inspected the area on Friday with Steve Lynch, the town highway superintendent, engineers for the town and the Army Corps, and the contractors.

Although not specified in the project plans, Mr. Cantwell said the contractors had installed an additional length of pipe to direct the water flow away from the base of a wooden walkway to the beach they were constructing. They also placed a cap on the end of the pipe that restricted its output, he said, because the water flow was creating a gully on the beach.

“The system backed up,” creating the buildup behind the sandbag wall, said the supervisor. “That’s been rectified.” The extension was removed, he said.

During the steady rain on Tuesday, road runoff was flowing freely through the pipe ending just at the foot of the stairs to the beach, carving a channel into the sand.

The supervisor and his assistant, Alex Walter, who has been overseeing the Montauk beach project, said that runoff has always been funneled through a pipe onto the beach; what was added, they said, was a 40-foot extension so that the pipe — and the water draining off the streets — could get past the sandbag wall. “Our engineers tried to design something to allow this,” Mr. Walter said.

Finding a solution to the area’s drainage and flooding problems was a prerequisite to the start of the Army Corps project, and the town had hired consultants to examine the issue. Rainwater draining off hundreds of acres flows into the downtown area, they said, and a long-term, comprehensive solution would be costly.

“The bigger issue is there’s a huge volume of water,” Mr. Cantwell said Monday. “The larger drainage issue is massive, complex, involving a lot of private and public properties.” Town staff is examining it, he said, “to piece together where existing drainage is and how much it handles,” as well as potential solutions such as the installation of additional drainage structures, water recharge areas, or swales.

The large wooden walkways over the buried sandbag wall, elevated above the surface of the reinforced dune, comprise stairs leading to a platform, and then additional stairs down to the beach.

A handicapped access under discussion, which would be installed by the town, would provide “a gentle ramp” in place of the stairs leading to the platform at one of the walkway locations.  A ramp down onto the beach would be impossible, however, Mr. Cantwell said, as the angled slope would require more length than the width of the beach. “That would be in the ocean all the time,” he said.  The vehicle access at South Edison Street is flat and at ground level, and could provide handicapped access, Mr. Cantwell pointed out.

“We wanted no walkways at all, and we certainly didn’t want the walkways they designed,” Mr. Cantwell said. “The D.E.C. and the Corps insisted that they be there to protect the dune.”

The state, Mr. Walter said, had at first wanted to see wooden walkways built at each of the private beach access points promised to oceanfront property owners. “Where there’s four now, they really wanted about 13,” Mr. Walter said, but town officials talked them into allowing four-foot-wide sand paths over the dune instead.

Concrete paving material for the roadway onto the beach at South Edison Street is expected to arrive and be installed within days.

When the final tasks are done, Mr. Cantwell said, there will be an inspection by town, D.E.C., and Army Corps officials, along with the contractors.

Upon completion, the town and county are to take on the financial and maintenance responsibility of a three-foot topping of sand on the length of sandbags.