The strong nor’easter that barreled over the East End the day after Christmas once again battered beaches still struggling to recover from the decimation of Hurricane Sandy.
Sand berms that had been built to protect homes that no longer have natural dunes in front of them were again erased by the storm’s waves, driven by winds that gusted over 60 miles per hour on the East End, according to the National Weather Service, but appear to have largely held back the waves enough to prevent more damage to homes. In places where natural dunes remained, the storm bit off broad chunks, up to 50 feet in some places.
With four months of winter storm season still ahead before the calm, southerly winds of spring and summer can be expected to help naturally rebuild beaches, the condition of the coastline is a concern to the owners of homes and businesses that now loom over where dunes once stood to protect them from the ocean.
“Tides are very high again, and there are no dunes,” said Chuck Bowman, an environmental engineering consultant who helps homeowners construct protective features to replace natural dunes.
During last month’s storm, the ocean again over-topped dunes in western Southampton Town. At Cupsogue County Park to the west of West Hampton Dunes, where the Army Corps of Engineers only weeks ago completed a $6 million project to close the new inlet that formed in the barrier island when Sandy’s waves washed over, the ocean again flooded over the dunes, although it does not appear to have reached across to the bay and did not breach. But the sand the Army Corps had piled into dunes seaward of where the former roadway was are again flattened.
In Bridgehampton and Sagaponack, where many houses were damaged by Sandy and left exposed to the sea, the thousands of tons of sand and giant sandbags, known as Geocubes, that were trucked in during the mad scramble between Sandy and the nor’easter that struck just a week later, appear to have done their job, though they were largely sacrificed to the effort.
“I’d say probably half the sand that was trucked in is gone,” said Steven Mezynieski, an excavation contractor who helped several homeowners rebuild dunes following Sandy. The effort began anew this week, as it likely will after each storm this year. “The biggest problem we’re having with these storms now is that [Sandy] dropped the elevation of the beach several feet, so when the storms come in, [waves] just slam straight into the dunes and the residences.”
Five properties in Sagaponack and Bridgehampton whose owners had installed Geocubes to deflect the force of the waves hitting their foundations appear to have held up to the storm, consultant Aram Terchunian said last week.
The storm was the third, and most destructive, nor’easter to hit the South Fork since Sandy, and beaches that were showing signs of recovering in the days right after the rare late October hurricane have steadily regressed.
The Army Corps of Engineers had just completed the first phase of a massive beach replenishment project along the ocean beaches immediately west of the Shinnecock Inlet, where Sandy completely flattened dunes, burying the roadway and commercial properties on the bayfront under several feet of sand. The nor’easter’s waves washed away large amounts of the some 300,000 tons of sand that had been dredged from the inlet and pumped onto the beach. How much of that sand will come back naturally between storms remains to be seen.
“The fill there actually did pretty well, the beach just hasn’t recovered yet, but it’s not gone,” Mr. Terchunian said after inspecting conditions the day after the storm. “The beach you can see is only 10 percent of the actual beach—the rest is under the surface, like an iceberg.”
Mr. Terchunian said that the vast majority of the sand pumped out of the inlet was placed in the littoral zone, beneath the surface of the water just offshore of the dry beachhead, where it will act to slow oncoming storm waves and dampen the erosive effects. The visible beach should gradually grow during periods of gentle weather.
The engineers conducting the project for the Army Corps have now moved on to the second of three phases of the planned $5 million project: rebuilding the beach near Tiana Beach, where the ocean nearly breached the barrier island during Sandy. About 150,000 tons of sand will be deposited there.
The third phase of the project will see the dredge pumps return to the area immediately west of the inlet to pump whatever sand still needs to be removed from the inlet to meet the specifications for the channel, but the one-two punch of Sandy and the most recent storm mean that even after the work is completed, the beachhead will be only a shadow of what it had been.