Answers to Montauk’s erosion problem seem to be shaping up on the East Hampton Town Board, as members plan next week to vote on a resolution accepting federal funding for an engineered beach in Montauk, should such money become available.
Erosion in Montauk, and the various recommendations offered by the town’s Coastal Erosion Committee, a group assembled after Hurricane Sandy to diagnose the issue, was the only topic of discussion at a heated work session at the Montauk Firehouse on Tuesday. Members of Montauk’s downtown business community, residents, committee members and Town Board members sounded off on some recent developments in the erosion dialogue—which have boiled down to the divisive question of whether the Town Board would permit hard structures on beaches in emergency cases for properties already compromised by Hurricane Sandy.
At last Thursday’s Town Board meeting, East Hampton Business Alliance Executive Director Margaret Turner and Ira Barocas of Springs expressed their frustration over the Town Board’s inability to move past the issue of whether vulnerable beachfront property owners should be allowed to place rock on their properties. Supervisor Bill Wilkinson, Councilwoman Theresa Quigley and Councilman Dominick Stanzione had said they’d support hardening the shoreline in temporary, emergency cases, while Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc and Councilwoman Sylvia Overby have expressed hesitation and a desire to study the matter further. Ms. Turner called it “a lack of action” on the erosion front. “We cannot afford as a town eight months of autopilot,” Mr. Barocas told the board, apparently singling out Ms. Quigley and Mr. Wilkinson, neither of whom will seek reelection in November.
This week, Councilman Van Scoyoc was taken to task on his position over hardening shorelines. Chris Coleman, a member of the town’s Coastal Erosion Committee, asked him if the town were able to get federal funding for an engineered beach, and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials came up with a plan that included some kind of hardening—for example, a rock core surrounded by dune—would he support it. When Mr. Van Scoyoc said he’d have to look at the plan, Mr. Coleman called it “a roundabout answer” and that Mr. Van Scoyoc was “hurting people.”
Later in the meeting, Mr. Van Scoyoc said he would be “very much inclined” to go along with recommendations by the Army Corps of Engineers. He and Mr. Stanzione pointed out there’s no guarantee yet the federal government would fund and design an engineered beach. Paul Monte, the general manager and CEO of Gurney’s Inn and a member of the Town Coastal Erosion Committee, said if the board doesn’t publicly demonstrate support for federal funding for an engineered beach—a potential “once in a lifetime opportunity”—federal officials are not likely to make it happen. After comments by members of the audience, and an attempt by Ms. Quigley and Mr. Wilkinson to force a vote on the issue, Mr. Van Scoyoc said he’d sponsor a resolution next week that would speak to support federal funding for an engineered beach, should money become available.
Mr. Stanzione addressed the interim situation, highlighting that the process of amending Town Code and going against the town’s Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan to permit material like rocks to be used in an emergency, temporary basis would involve four votes, public hearings and would take somewhere between six and seven weeks. The board plans to begin that process.
“And we’ll just hope nothing happens in the next six weeks,” Mr. Wilkinson said, referring to future storms.