When Hurricane Sandy blustered through East Hampton Town, Montauk was hardest hit. The storm claimed the life of a local woman, ripped off part of the roof of the community’s school, destroyed town property and took an enormous bite out of the beach lining the downtown business district.
Still, it could have been much worse.
A glance westward at communities trampled by Hurricane Sandy, coupled with a rise in sea levels and increasingly severe storms over the years, has sobered East Hampton Town officials and local residents to the reality that Montauk could one day become its own island.
In response to that fear, the town has called together a new group made up of environmentalists, business owners, local politicians and other town officials to try to come up with solutions to the threat of erosion. The goal is to start with downtown Montauk, considered a “hot spot” for erosion, and eventually expand to other areas of the town.
The bottom-line question, at least for East Hampton Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson, is whether the town is ultimately going to “fortify” its shores—either with a soft, sandy solution or a hard structure approach—or “retreat,” that is, to pick up and relocate certain properties.
“You tell me any other way to look at it and come up with a different answer,” said Mr. Wilkinson.
The East Hampton Town Coastal Erosion Committee is looking at a number of short-and long-term solutions, with the most desired option being a massive and potentially multimillion-dollar beach renourishment project along a 2-mile stretch of beach that runs the length of the Montauk downtown business district. Town officials have been in contact with U.S. Representative Tim Bishop in hopes of getting federal funding for such a project.
On Tuesday, Mr. Bishop said he’s met with U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials as recently as Monday morning and is “pushing very hard” for what would be an interim project for beach nourishment in downtown Montauk. He characterized those discussions as going down “the right path” and said he was feeling “encouraged by the response of the Army Corps of Engineers.” He said that a $50 billion Hurricane Sandy relief package by Congress, which has yet to be signed by President Barack Obama, could potentially be used to pay for a beach renourishment in Montauk.
“The Sandy supplemental bill the president will sign into law this week provides us, in effect, a path forward to get that done,” Mr. Bishop said Tuesday. “And so I’m very hopeful and very optimistic, but I’m not yet at the point where I can call up Bill Wilkinson and say it’s a done deal, because it isn’t.” The erosion committee wants to explore pursuing an “engineered beach” status for downtown Montauk from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which would allow the town to obtain federal funds to pay for damages of up to 75 percent in the event of a storm. Other ideas group members have discussed include creating an erosion control tax district to pay for beach renourishment, permitting beach scraping, elevating buildings, relocating critical infrastructure like the Long Island Power Authority substation and the Montauk IGA food store, and possibly providing incentives for property owners to relocate.
The committee has also been studying the town code to see what emergency solutions are permissible for badly damaged properties after a storm, and whether those should be amended. Currently, the code doesn’t permit hardened structures on the beach.
While there have been some differing perspectives, everyone on the committee agrees that “having a wide and healthy beach” is the ultimate goal, according to East Hampton Town Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc, a Town Board liaison to the committee. The beach is an integral part of the town’s tourist-driven economy, he said.
“Sand is gold,” Mr. Van Scoyoc said. “And it takes a lot of money to come up with it and move it around and all of that.”
Some of the areas of dissension center around the idea of an erosion control tax district, and also on what kinds of structures should be allowed on the beach in the event of an emergency.
One Business’s Plight
Steve Kalimnios, one of the owners of Double K Management, the company that owns the Royal Atlantic Beach Resort Motel, is a vocal member of the committee. After the hurricane swept out several feet of sand from beneath the motel, he hired contractors to drop rows of cement cesspool rings and cover them with sand to protect the building from further damage. It was a move that drew criticism from the environmental group the Concerned Citizens of Montauk because it wasn’t allowed under a town emergency permit. Mr. Kalimnios argued they’re a temporary fix that will be removed when the threat of erosion is gone, but the move sparked a dialogue on what protective measures should be allowed on the beach in emergency situations when the committee met on Monday.