Please, Sir, More Sand For Ditch Plain

Montauk merchants, motel owners, cry foul
Ditch Plain beach in Montauk, summer 2008
Ditch Plain beach in Montauk, summer 2008 Morgan McGivern

    Ditch Plain beach in Montauk, now a rocky expanse closed to swimming because of erosion-related hazards on the shore and in the surf, rose to the top of the East Hampton Town Board’s to-do list this week following pressure from Montauk residents seeking to salvage the summer season for beachgoers and, they say, the local economy.
    Bid specifications for the addition of trucked-in sand to the beach, and an expedited application to the state Department of Environmental Conservation for a permit, are being prepared.
    At a meeting on Tuesday, Diane Hausman, chairwoman of the Montauk Citizens Advisory Committee, told the board that almost 50 people had attended the group’s monthly meeting the night before, in addition to committee members, and that virtually all agreed that immediate restoration of the beach at Ditch is crucial. Committee members unanimously decided to ask the town board to do so.
    “All the people that are coming out, expecting to use that beach,” Ms. Hausman told board members. “Our kids that are going out surfing. And there aren’t going to be lifeguards there.”
    Speakers at Monday’s meeting were angry that East Hampton has not yet taken steps to replenish the sand at the beach. Other towns on Long Island and in New Jersey whose beaches were just as hard-hit by Hurricane Sandy are now proclaiming them open and ready for the summer, they said.
    Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson said he had visited Ditch Plain with Drew Bennett, an engineer, and with Patrick Bistrian, a heavy equipment operator, to discuss plans for trucking in sand. Keith Grimes, a Montauk contractor who installed the rock revetment in front of Montauk Shores Condominiums to the east, also visited the site, with Tony Littman, head of the town’s buildings and maintenance crew, Mr. Wilkinson said.
    In a May 22 letter to the town board following his inspection of the beach, Mr. Bennett wrote that “there is a very high risk that imported sand would be lost to the ocean very rapidly.” Exposed cobbles and hardpan are in the wave wash, he said, and “covering areas experiencing active wave and tide action with relatively small amounts of sand will not be successful.”    
    Mr. Bennett said that “importing a limited quantity of sand for the high beach at the road-end may be useful to better establish a beach for the lifeguard stand.” However, he reported, “a number of water hazards were observed during my inspection.” The engineer said he did not recommend either beach-scraping or importing sand onto the shoreward part of the beach. “Neither will succeed,” he wrote.
    He also noted that East Hampton Village had elected not to open Georgica Beach to swimming early last season, because of water hazards following Tropical Storm Irene. By July, he said, the prevailing southwesterly winds led to a natural accumulation of sand, allowing the village to reopen the beach that month. “This type of approach is probably the best course of action the town can take at this time for Ditch Plains west,” he wrote.
    There is not enough sand on site for beach-scraping (moving sand deposits onto eroded areas), the engineer said.
    The town has already borrowed $750,000, by issuing a bond, to repair Sandy’s damage to beaches, buildings, and other facilities, and another $1.5 million for post-storm road repairs. About $150,000 of the $750,000 has been spent, Len Bernard, the town budget officer, said yesterday.
     He estimated that trucking sand onto Ditch Plain could cost about $300,000. The town will seek reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for its storm-related expenses.
    Recent allegations that the Montauk Shores Condominiums rock revetment caused the severe erosion at the bathing beach complicates matters, Mr. Wilkinson said Tuesday, as the $750,000 was borrowed specifically for repairing problems caused by the hurricane.
    “If it isn’t — if that wasn’t caused by that — then we have a problem,” he said.
    Councilwoman Theresa Quigley echoed his concerns. “C.C.O.M. stood here in this room and vehemently declared it was caused by Montauk Shores,” she said of recent comments by Jeremy Samuelson, the executive director of Concerned Citizens of Montauk. “If indeed it was caused by Montauk Shores, we have a legal issue. So all of a sudden we’ve got a question out there that’s interfering with the immediacy of being able to do something.”
    At the advisory committee meeting, Kathy Weiss, a business owner, said that if it is indeed found that the Montauk Shores seawall has interrupted the natural flow of sand, as many believe, then the town should sue the trailer park owners. That project, completed in April, is currently under D.E.C. investigation for exceeding what was allowed by permit. “The town has a responsibility to sue them for our beach,” Ms. Weiss told committee members.
    Mr. Wilkinson said Tuesday that he visits Ditch Plain twice a day. “I just want to set the record straight,” he told the Montauk residents pushing for beach restoration. “I would love to get it done today.”
    “At what point are you going to determine if it was caused by Hurricane Sandy?” asked Laraine Creegan, the executive director of the Montauk Chamber of Commerce.
    “I made that determination a long time ago,” Mr. Wilkinson said.
    “Then you have to go with your determination, Bill,” Ms. Creegan told him. “We have to do it, and we have to do it now. Ditch Plains is a world-famous beach.”
    Bill Mavro, an owner of the Montauk Clothing Store, emphasized the importance of the Ditch Plain beach to Montauk’s economy at the citizens advisory committee meeting. He said his store and others, including surf shops, sell at least $500,000 annually in clothing marked with the Ditch Plain logo, mostly on T-shirts.
    “I don’t think that anyone in the town would sue us for replacing sand,” Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc said Tuesday. “To me the question is, how much sand do we need, where are we going to put it, and how long is it going to last?”
    “The suit is misuse of funds,” Mr. Wilkinson said.
    The board did not discuss other funding sources for the beach restoration project. But at Monday’s meeting, residents told Councilman Dominick Stanzione, the liaison to the Montauk advisory group, that the town should have a special fund for emergency situations or be able to tap into another fund.
    The cost of a sand delivery should not matter, considering the dangerous situation at Ditch, some said. “There are rocks there, people can get pummeled by them, or someone could dive into a rock,” said Chris Poli.
     Mr. Stanzione said he was in favor of trucking sand in to the beach, regardless of how long it might last, to get it open for the summer season.
     “Sandy did that; there’s no doubt about it,” said Alice Houseknecht, the owner of the East Deck Motel, on Tuesday. When the hurricane hit in October, “that whole area was just flattened,” she said. “And then we had a lot of northeasters and a blizzard that took whatever flat sand there was, away. . . . Please, for the sake of the summer season, and for the reputation of all of the beaches, let’s get some sand there.”
    “I don’t see any problem with this board voting on Thursday night [tonight] to go out to bid,” Mr. Wilkinson said. He asked Jeanne Carrozza, the town’s purchasing agent, to begin the process of seeking bids, and to “put a full court press on it today.”
    With reporting by Janis Hewitt