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Deeper Dredging, More Spoil at Montauk Inlet?

Thu, 09/12/2019 - 13:44

The Army Corps of Engineers may dredge Montauk Harbor to a greater depth and width than it presently calls for, East Hampton Town Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said at the town board’s work session on Tuesday. The spoil would be deposited to the west of the western jetty, where erosion has long battered the beach.

The Army Corps, Mr. Van Scoyoc said at the Montauk Firehouse, has proposed dredging to a depth of 17 feet, five feet deeper than its present protocol. This, the supervisor said, could resolve “recurring issues” of the inlet’s depth due to shoaling. Large fishing vessels, particularly those laden with their catch or entering the harbor at low tide, sometimes strike the sea floor, he noted.

A draft environmental assessment prepared by the Corps acknowledged erosion of the shoreline west of the inlet and shoaling and accretion of the shoreline east of it. “The existing 12-foot channel and harbor depths are only marginally adequate for many of the current commercial vessels,” the report states. “In addition, maintaining the channel depth and width has become more difficult with the accumulation of sand on the eastern side of the east jetty and the deterioration of the east jetty through which sand migrates into the Federal navigation channel.” As the inlet’s depth decreases, “commercial navigation is further limited. Some deeper draft vessels, accounting for a significant portion of the commercial fish landings, must transit the channel only during high tides or must sail under less than their full load capacity to decrease their operating drafts.”

“The dredge spoil would be placed west of the jetty,” alleviating erosion, Mr. Van Scoyoc said. “It’s a navigation-only project, but has the benefit of additional dredge spoil to the west.”

The Army Corps has proposed an eight-year re-dredging cycle, Mr. Van Scoyoc said. The town would be responsible for 10 percent of the project’s cost, he said, with an initial outlay of $380,000 and the same amount over a longer term.

The town requested and was granted an extension on the deadline to respond to the Army Corps proposal. “As is often the case, we sit for years waiting for updates,” Mr. Van Scoyoc said, “and then get literally days, sometimes, to go back and review.”

Brian Frank, the town’s chief environmental analyst, will discuss the Army Corps proposal with the town board at its meeting on Tuesday.

In March, a judge overturned a 2018 jury verdict that concluded that the town was responsible for erosion west of the harbor jetties and awarded $356,000 in damages to seven property owners, who were among 11 plaintiffs in a lawsuit originally filed in 2010. Federal Judge Joanna Seybert of the Eastern District court granted the town’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit in which property owners along Captain Kidd’s Path and Soundview Drive in the Culloden Shores neighborhood claimed that the town was responsible for the erosion to their properties that was exacerbated by the jetties on either side of the inlet.

Judge Seybert’s decision eliminated the possibility that she would consider requiring the town to undertake the court-imposed beach restoration project demanded by plaintiffs.

Carl Fisher, the entrepreneur who aimed to develop Montauk as a “Miami Beach of the North,” built the jetties in 1926. They became a Federal navigation project under the 1945 Rivers and Harbors Act. Although the town took ownership of the jetties to facilitate the federal takeover, Judge Seybert found that the town had no control over them, and that the Army Corps “considered the jetties and the channel to be a federal responsibility with federal responses required to solve the erosion problems.”