Montauk Lawsuit to Proceed

Of jetties, beaches, and the Army Corps
A view of Soundview Drive and Captain Kidd's Path from the water David E. Rattray

A lawsuit against East Hampton Town, brought by a group of Montauk property owners who claim that erosion of their waterfront land was caused by the installation of the jetties at the mouth of Montauk Harbor, will proceed to trial, following a court decision last week denying the town’s request for dismissal.

The suit, filed in 2011, alleges that the jetties have caused erosion and damage to public and private beaches as well as the shoreline houses to the west, along Soundview Drive and Culloden Shores, leaving them vulnerable to destruction in storms. It asks that the responsible government agencies be ordered to restore and replenish the beaches, and to continue to maintain them against erosion.

In response to the lawsuit, East Hampton Town had asserted that the Army Corps of Engineers, which installed the jetties, should bear responsibility. An earlier suit, in state court, was dismissed because the Army Corps was not named as a defendant; the plaintiffs then filed in federal court, naming the Corps.

Just last week, after years of discussions with the Corps about building up and restoring the beachfront west of the jetties, town officials said they would ask the Corps to drop the plan, which called for the installation of sandbag groins. That approach — the only one the Army Corps was willing to fully fund — violates the town’s local waterfront revitalization plan, which precludes hard structures along the shore, town officials said.

The estimated $21 million cost of an alternate plan favored by the town, using dredged sand to build up the beach, is $11 million more than the Corps’s plan, and the town would have had to pay the difference.

The recent ruling dismisses the Corps from the property owners’ lawsuit on a technicality, though the agency could once again be included in the future. At present, it would be the town, as sole defendant, that could be held responsible for the erosion along the shore in the affected area, and also on the hook for restoration or repairs, should the case go that way.