As East Hampton waits for a report from the Army Corps of Engineers on potential beach restoration projects for downtown Montauk, the question of what to do about the beach at Ditch Plain, where erosion last winter and spring wore the surface down to rock, has taken center stage.
The town had sand trucked in last summer to replenish the popular surfing beach, a draw for numerous visitors to Montauk, and the Montauk Citizens Advisory Committee had recently appealed to the town board to ask the Army Corps to consider replenishing that beach, too, if it has a dredge nearby to pump sand onto the downtown shore.
The Army Corps has focused its immediate scope of work for the Montauk shoreline — under an emergency authorization through which the federal government will completely foot the bill — on the downtown stretch.
In the final days of his campaign for re-election, Town Councilman Dominick Stanzione has taken up replenishing the beach at Ditch, proffering two different possibilities. At a meeting Tuesday, he asked the town board to “enable the supervisor to pursue [community preservation funds]” for Ditch Plain restoration.
The fund, a state-approved tool used by the five East End towns, receives revenue from a 2-percent tax on most real estate transfers. A recent revision to the bylaws governing the fund might allow the town to use money from it to pay for sand replenishment on the public beach at Ditch, Mr. Stanzione said.
However, the change approved by the State Legislature does not expand the authorized uses of C.P.F. money.
Mr. Stanzione had outlined the other possible source of money for Ditch at a recent candidates debate sponsored by the Concerned Citizens of Montauk, saying the town had made a “serious financial commitment” to beach restoration there and would be creating a capital fund for it. A new draft of the capital budget has not yet been discussed or adopted. However, Mr. Stanzione has asked that the draft include Ditch Plain beach replenishment in its list of projects the town board might authorize and borrow money for.
The community preservation fund can be used for the preservation of undeveloped beachlands or shoreline, along with other types of land. The revision adds the words “including those at significant risk of coastal flooding due to projected sea level rise and future storms.” The revision was signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who, surrounding the anniversary of last year’s Hurricane Sandy, has been focusing on the need to take sea level rise and storm impacts into account when making decisions regarding coastal property.
New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. said Tuesday that when the C.P.F. program was first authorized in 1999, climate change and sea level rise wasn’t a consideration. The change to the law, he said, was part of an effort to ensure that state “laws and statutes have a recognition of the need to address sea level rise.”
As before, the town could potentially purchase shorefront land that has been developed, if there were a willing seller, under the community preservation program, as long as any structures were subsequently removed and the area returned to open space.
Councilman Stanzione said at the town board’s meeting Tuesday that he had discussed the new provision with Senator Kenneth J. LaValle, a sponsor with Mr. Thiele of the legislation, and believed the town could use C.P.F. money to put sand on the Ditch beach as long as the fund’s regional opinions advisory board agreed.
But Mr. Thiele and Mr. LaValle both demurred. “No. It’s still a land acquisition program,” Mr. Thiele said. In a phone interview yesterday, Mr. LaValle said “it was all about the sea level rise. We wanted to make sure it was clear that land could be purchased.”
Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson praised Mr. Stanzione at Tuesday’s meeting for seeking a solution to the funding question and not taking a position that it can’t be done. “You go, Dominick,” said Mr. Wilkinson. “Go get that money from the C.P.F. for the people of Montauk.”
Town Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc, who said he had clarified the legislation by speaking with Assemblyman Thiele, said he would be “happy to pursue the question, but don’t get your hopes up.”
Mr. Thiele said that one possible use of C.P.F. money along the shore, which is being considered by the advisory board, would be to use the permitted “management and stewardship” provisions of the fund to pay for beach replenishment on properties that have been purchased with the fund. However, work at Ditch Plain would not qualify, since the beach is not a C.P.F. property.
In a split vote on Oct. 17, the town board had ignored Ditch, voting to relay only one request to the Army Corp: that it include the use of sand-filled geotextile tubes among the options it is considering, which include a sand-covered seawall or sand replenishment alone.
Councilman Stanzione said Tuesday that Supervisor Wilkinson’s request to have the entire Montauk shore included was “deemed uneconomic by the Army Corps.” It was unclear, however, whether the Corps had actually made that analysis, or if it had communicated it to the town. Councilman Van Scoyoc said yesterday that he was unaware of any opinion yet offered by the Corps.
The board is awaiting the Corps recommendations, which are expected in the coming weeks.