As the Quogue Village Board prepares to make a decision on whether to consent to the establishment of an erosion control taxing district, several Dune Road homeowners have brought a case against the use of a device called geotubes, calling for their removal from beachfront properties.
In an email on Wednesday, Quogue Village Clerk Aimee Buhl said that it was unclear whether the Quogue Village Board would make a decision on whether to consent to the establishment of an erosion control taxing district at the next board meeting on Friday, June 21, at 4 p.m. at Quogue Village Hall.
At the board’s final public hearing last month, homeowners Andrew and Karen Cirincione argued that the geotubes—long tubes that are filled with sand and placed at the foot of dunes to deflect waves—are the main source of the beach’s erosion.
Rather than consent to the Town of Southampton establishing an erosion control taxing district, the homeowners have pressed the Village Board to remove the tubes, which they believe will resolve the erosion problem.
“I don’t know if you understand the damage that these do to these properties,” Ms. Cirincione said, addressing the Village Board at last month’s meeting. “They prevent the beach from migrating.”
The Cirinciones would be one of 44 Dune Road homeowners responsible for paying for a proposed $9.9 million beach nourishment project, should the Village Board approve it. Under the proposal, Mr. Cirincione said that he would be required to pay close to $30,000 annually for 10 years.
If approved, the project—an iteration of a larger $15 million project, proposed back in 2007—would piggyback on a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project to reconstruct 4.5 miles of beach between Hampton Bays and East Quogue, expected to begin in 2020.
The plan, outlined by Aram Terchunian, a Westhampton-based coastal geologist, who has helped design several large beach nourishment projects, is to dump nearly 526,000 cubic yards of sand along a 1.1-mile stretch of beach from the Quogue Beach Club to the village’s eastern boundary.
However, according to a report by Dr. Robert Young—head of the Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines at Western Carolina University in North Carolina—the placing of hard protective structures, including geotubes, along the oceanfront can cause accelerated erosion.
Dr. Young was hired by the Southampton Town Trustees back in 2011 to prepare a study on the negative impacts of geotubes, and other similar shore-parallel hard structures, on East End beaches.
“There is clear, scientific consensus that seawalls or any hard structure designed to halt erosion, when placed on an eroding or retreating beach, will cause that beach to narrow and eventually disappear,” Dr. Young’s report reads.
He pointed to three types of erosion associated with a seawalled beach: placement loss, passive erosion and active erosion. In an interview on Friday, Dr. Young explained that placement loss is the simple fact that when a geotube or seawall is installed, it covers a certain percentage of the beach that can’t then be used, because it’s underneath the structure: “Whatever beach those are sitting on, it’s not going to be able to provide any sand or services.”
Passive erosion occurs when the dune line is essentially replaced by the geotube or other permanent structure, therefore preventing the beach from naturally migrating.
“The problem is that building a seawall on a chronically retreating shoreline does not halt the erosion or shoreline movement. It simply creates a landward boundary for the ocean shoreline to run into,” Dr. Young’s report reads. “On an eroding shore, the beach will simply narrow in front of the seawall until it disappears.”
He defined active erosion as any process that accelerates beach erosion as a result of a seawall, including processes known as “end effect” and “reduction in sediment.” End effect essentially relates to the impact seawalls have on neighboring beachfront properties.
Dr. Young explained that when waves diffract around the edges of a seawall, it results in an increase in erosion around the structure’s margins, causing damage to adjacent properties. “Individual property owners, they are impacting their neighbors and that’s the main problem,” he said.
In addition to the end effect, he added that seawalls, bulkheads, geotubes, and other revetments eliminate the natural flow of sand that would typically help replenish the beach through the natural erosion of the dunes. He called beaches an “interconnected river of sand.”
“Retreating beaches can maintain themselves by receiving sediment that is moving alongshore and by receiving sediment from dunes as the beach erodes. Seawalls seal off the latter as a source of sediment,” Dr. Young’s report reads.
“If they’re taken out, I think it will save the beach,” Mr. Cirincione added.
Dr. Young, however, was skeptical when asked if removing the village’s geotubes would help to restore the beach to a point where the proposed beach nourishment project would not be necessary.
“Removing the geotubes and cubes will certainly widen the beach to a degree in those areas. But it’s probably not correct to imagine that removing the geotubes would somehow restore the beach,” he said. He stressed, however, “I always believe it better for managing the coast as a whole to have as few geotubes on the coast as possible.”
Still, not all coastal geologists agree with Dr. Young’s report.
Mr. Terchunian, who was hired in 2013 by Save the Dunes and Beaches Foundation—a group of Dune Road homeowners in favor of the proposed taxing district—argued that while geotextile structures can potentially cause erosion, it is highly unlikely. He explained that geotubes can cause erosion only when the protective structure interacts with waves for an extended period of time.
“It has to hit it repeatedly over months and years,” he said. “If something is buried in a dune 100 feet away, it’s physically impossible for them to interact, so they can’t possibly cause erosion.”
He attributed the erosion along the village beach to the Shinnecock Inlet, noting that it intercepts the longshore littoral transport of sand and traps approximately 50 percent of the migrating sand. From 1938 to 2000, Mr. Terchunian estimated that the inlet has trapped nearly 9 million cubic yards of sand.
Quogue Village Mayor Peter Sartorius shared a similar perspective, pointing out that the geotubes are permitted by the DEC. “I really don’t accept the notion that those are doing any harm,” he said at last month’s public hearing.
However, the Southampton Town Trustees—who act essentially as stewards of an easement allowing public access to ocean and bay beaches—have, in recent years, attempted to ban homeowners from installing hard protective structures along beachfront properties. The trustees filed a lawsuit against Dune Road homeowners Paul Napoli and Jeffrey Levine in 2010, pushing them to remove geotubes from their beachfront properties.
However, a State Supreme Court justice ruled that the State Legislature actually stripped the Trustees of their oversight of the beaches in 1818—leaving the power to regulate protective measures on the ocean beaches with the respective municipality, as well as the State Department of Environmental Conservation.
The state agency, as well as the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Village Board, had granted permits to Mr. Napoli and Mr. Levine to install the geotubes in 2010.
On Friday, Mr. Napoli explained that the geotubes installed along the edge of his property are the only thing keeping his home from “falling into the ocean.”
“It would be a horror story,” he said. “For them to say that this contributes to erosion makes absolutely no sense. ”
Mr. Napoli, an environmental lawyer with Napoli Shkolnik in Melville, agreed with Mr. Terchunian’s assessment of the beach, attributing the erosion to the Shinnecock Inlet.
“Obviously, the geotubes have no effect on that process—they’re inland. They have as much effect on the beach as does the Quogue market in town,” he said. “We’ve now had state, federal and court oversight … these people are literally talking outside an area that they know nothing about.”
He added, “It comes down to dollars—they don’t believe that they have any obligation to protect the coastline. If they don’t want to fix the beach, they should move inland.”
Including Mr. Napoli’s property, Mr. Terchunian explained that 19 permanent shoreline protective structures—including 17 geotextiles—exist from the Quogue Village Beach Club to Quogue’s eastern boundary.
He added that when approving a revetment permit, DEC officials look for evidence proving that a homeowner’s property is at risk of coastal flooding and erosion by means of a substantially eroded dune.
The DEC evaluates each revetment application individually to determine which erosion protection option is best. When erosion protection is deemed necessary, officials require that natural solutions such as beach nourishment, dune restoration, and slope vegetation, be used before the implementation of hardened structures such as bulkheads, seawalls, groins, and geotextile bags or tubes.
The DEC recognizes that hardened erosion protection structures have a greater potential for negative impacts, but stressed that they are permitted when appropriate.
However, Kevin McAllister, founding president of Defend H2O—a nonprofit organization dedicated to restoring the quality of Long Island’s water—pushed for tighter DEC guidelines when granting permits.
He stressed that seawalls, bulkheads, geotubes, or any form of permanent structure should be allowed only on a temporary emergency basis. “It’s an important distinction,” he said.
“Where the challenge lies comes down to permitting—these property owners are coming forward with eminent threat of loss, but are [geotubes] being allowed on a temporary basis? Are they issuing these as a permanent structure? If they are, that’s a problem—that’s a real problem.”
Dr. Young called the DEC’s process for allowing structures, like geotubes, “a little bit frustrating.”
“This is New York—it just seems like everything is permitted,” he said. “I’m certain folks are aware of the impacts like geotubes, but regulating anything on the coast in the state of New York is difficult.”
In an interview on Monday, Ms. Cirincione suggested that the village establish a shoreline management program to study the beach and determine what erosion techniques are working and which aren’t.
“If we had a shoreline management program, we could ascertain whether the geotextiles should be removed,” she said.