Town Urged On Montauk Erosion District

Is this the solution to bolstering the beach?

The Army Corps of Engineers has indicated that its Fire Island to Montauk Point Reformulation Plan, decades in the making, will provide significantly less sand to replenish Montauk’s downtown ocean beach than town officials had hoped.

Faced with that fact, in a step toward self-sufficiency, the recently formed Montauk Beach Preservation Committee presented a proposal to the East Hampton Town Board on Tuesday calling for a feasibility study and engineering analysis for a plan to combat erosion of the hamlet’s ocean beach. 

Laura Tooman, the committee’s chairwoman and the president of Concerned Citizens of Montauk, asked that the board allocate approximately $50,000 for a feasibility study that would draw potential boundaries of an erosion control district and explore funding mechanisms, and an additional $100,000 to $150,000 for an analysis including beach and inshore surveys, a study of the sediment quality of potential sand-source sites, beach replenishment options, and preliminary plans for a project that she estimated would cost $15 to $17 million. 

Implementation of the Army Corps’ plan remains several years into the future, and that combined with the reduced volume of sand “leaves us at a standstill,” Ms. Tooman said, “in terms of, we’re going to get a project but we know we need a bigger project, so maybe we, as a municipality, need to take it on our own and do something about it.” The committee will seek answers such as, “If we need to do more, what do we need to do, how much will it cost, and how are we going to pay for it?” she said. 

An initial commitment of around 750,000 cubic yards of sand to bolster Montauk’s beaches is now closer to 450,000, Ms. Tooman said yesterday, though the latter figure remains subject to change. “If the Army Corps comes in at 400,000-plus cubic yards, we and the town have already decided that’s not enough,” she said. “Plus, we may want to have a farther east point and west point” of sand replenishment than the Army Corps’ eventual plan. “We may want a wider beach profile, we may want a longer project.” The committee’s charge is to develop a plan that could be implemented in tandem with the Army Corps’ eventual effort. “If we could piggyback onto that project, it would make the most financial, planning, and programmatic sense,” she said. 

The Army Corps, Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said yesterday, has reduced its estimated volume of sand for Montauk’s beaches due to its conclusion that a 50-foot-wide beach is not sustainable. “My argument was, don’t cut back the total number of cubic yards,” he said. “This is well supported in coastal geology: If you widen and lengthen it, it lasts much longer. They should place the same quantity they verbally agreed to in 2016. Instead of projecting out, go with the 40-foot-wide beach they’re producing, put sand at either end, and expand the lineal dimensions of the project.” The Army Corps is taking that request into consideration, he said.  

“We don’t know if we need a district, or if that’s the best way to pay for this project,” Ms. Tooman told the board on Tuesday. “We do need assistance assessing that.” The committee is consulting with the Town of Southampton’s attorneys, planning staff, and environmental staff, she said, citing that town’s experience in establishing multiple erosion control districts. 

A feasibility study would be tasked with drawing conclusions as to an erosion control district’s boundaries, who would pay into it and how much, and whether there would be a willingness to do so. “If they aren’t, it doesn’t make sense to move forward with all this engineering analysis which also needs to be done,” she said. 

The committee will investigate imposition of a “bed tax,” a levy on hotel stays within an erosion control district’s jurisdiction, to help fund a replenishment project, Ms. Tooman said. 

Unfortunately, she said, grant money tends to be awarded to projects of a larger scale than the committee proposes. “I don’t know how competitive we would be in attaining it, to be frank,” she told the board. 

“We’re going to look to tap any potential funding sources that we can to offset costs to the town,” Mr. Van Scoyoc replied. 

The town at present has no erosion control districts, the supervisor noted. “This is something that we will have to take a very close look at. In my opinion, it’s critical that we get moving on creating funding districts for erosion control, and be self-sufficient in doing that, and use that to have additional benefit to any other federal project or state funding that comes through.” The town cannot wholly rely on the federal government, he said, given its shifting timelines and financial commitments. “So we need to have a self-sufficient approach, and use that district as a betterment to any project that might come.” 

“This is our new reality,” he said. “We have erosion that’s going to continue, and it’s going to get worse with more and more storms.”