A Decision Looms on Montauk Inlet

    With a deadline nearing in two weeks, the East Hampton Town Board must make a final decision about what it wants the Army Corps of Engineers to do about the Montauk Harbor inlet.

    The corps is set to dredge the inlet to provide safer navigation, but there are several options as to how to proceed. Federal funds would fully cover the least ambitious plan — to maintain the status quo by dredging to a 12-foot depth and 150-foot width in the channel, with a 50-foot wide “deposition basin” at the east side, to collect sand that would otherwise cause shoaling.

    Two other alternatives would require the town to kick in money, but would result in sand being added to areas west of the inlet to help rebuild beaches.

    An “enhanced navigation” option would see the inlet deepened to 17 or even 19 feet, with a larger deposition basin and an estimated 130,000 cubic yards of sand deposited on the West Lake Drive beach to the west of the inlet. Eighty percent of the cost would be covered with federal dollars, while the town would be responsible for the rest.

    Although Brian Frank, an environmental analyst for the town, did not provide an updated cost estimate during a presentation to the board on Tuesday, a projected $26 million total cost had been mentioned during a similar presentation last fall.

    The third option would require the town to obtain easements over private property along Soundview Drive, through purchase agreements or condemnation, and to establish a public beach.

     It could help to address severe erosion in that area through the addition of dredged sand; however, the Army Corps would also construct one to three groins along Soundview Drive or Captain Kidd’s Path in an effort to contain that sand. Initially, they would be constructed of nonpermanent geotextile tubes, which would be replaced after a decade with permanent steel, rock, or concrete structures.

    East Hampton would be responsible for up to 30 percent of the cost, with the Army Corps paying for 70 percent, although some additional money from Hurricane Sandy relief funding could be available for the project.

    The third option, said Mr. Frank on Tuesday, “has some environmental concerns associated with it,” because of “the impacts of groins.”

    “Shore-perpendicular structures like a groin seem to have the greatest shadow effect” as far as erosion on nearby beaches, he said.

    However, board members noted, the Soundview shore area is largely armored, and the area is identified in the town’s Local Waterfront Revitalization Program Plan as one where shore hardening may be allowed.

    “So,” said Mr. Frank, as far as protecting public sandy beaches, “the natural resource, and the public resource — that horse left the barn a long time ago. The legacy of coastal decisions lasts for decades.”

    Property owners in that area have sued the town over alleged negative effects from the existing groins — another consideration in the town’s decision-making.

    Councilwoman Theresa Quigley said that, in light of the lawsuit, the town should choose the most aggressive course of action. But Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc disagreed, saying that the town would be most liable for damages if it does install the groins. “If they fail or they cause unforeseen impacts, we are in a much more responsible position,” he said.

    “I don’t believe we have the luxury of stepping away from legitimate actions because of fear,” Ms. Quigley said.

    Board members asked Mr. Frank to provide more details for another discussion at Tuesday’s work session at the Montauk Firehouse at 10 a.m.