The Southampton Town Board unanimously approved a $24 million beach renourishment project for the ocean beaches of Water Mill, Bridgehampton and Sagaponack on Tuesday night.
The project, which had earlier this year been shelved by town lawmakers until next spring, was revived and fast-tracked following the damage to homes and beaches during Hurricane Sandy.
With the project approved by the town, it will now be scheduled for a public referendum sometime early next year. The Suffolk County Board of Elections will be responsible for scheduling the vote, which state law dictates must take place between 60 and 75 days from Tuesday night’s approval—most likely some time in early March. Only the residents of the two special taxing districts—125 property owners in all—or their representatives will be eligible to cast votes.
The town also announced on Tuesday that the leaders of the group of homeowners who have spearheaded the planning and proposal of the project have agreed to have the private property owners absorb about $1.5 million of the town’s portion of the total project. The town was initially to pay approximately $3 million of the total cost, for the five public beaches the town owns in the project area. The town will still have to pay about $1.5 million, but that money will be taken from special reserved park district funds and will not have any tax impact on town residents. As a result, the project will not have a direct tax impact on town taxpayers, other than those residents of the taxing districts.
Town Councilman Chris Nuzzi said on Tuesday evening that making the project tax-neutral for the town was an important step in moving the project forward with the Town Board. “I think that was a critical component of this, to have no impact on town residents’ taxes,” he said after the vote. “It’s a good project.”
With the portion picked up from the town, the project, which will pump more than 2.5 million tons of sand onto the ocean beaches between Flying Point Beach in Water Mill and Townline Road in Sagaponack, will cost the homeowners of the two taxing districts nearly $26 million in total. If the project is approved at the ballot box, the money will be borrowed by the town and paid back over 10 years through a special tax levy only on the oceanfront properties. Those residents will pay between a few thousand dollars and more than $200,000 per year, depending on the amount of oceanfront on each property.
The town approved the project with the understanding that legislation introduced by state lawmakers eventually will allow town officials to exempt two properties from paying the tax—those owned by the White family in Sagaponack and by the Bridgehampton Club—because they have conservation easements over their oceanfront land.
On Tuesday night, supporters of the project affirmed the urgency of broadening the beaches—by 60 to 80 feet, according to the project’s specifications—in the wake of Hurricane Sandy’s destruction.
“The greater the width of the beach, the better protection you have—that became plainly evident after Sandy,” said Town Chief Environmental Analyst Marty Shea. “Those areas where we had wide beaches are where you saw the least impacts and damage to houses.”
Working on the assumption of broad support among the residents of the taxing districts, the project’s proponents now will start working on the timing of the actual work. State and federal restrictions on dredging the ocean floor, where the sand for the new beachhead will be drawn from, normally limit such work along the oceanfront to the dead of winter. But some advocates have said it may be possible to receive exemptions if proper environmental safety protocols are put in place, such as monitoring the movement of federally protected piping plovers in the area where the beach construction is taking place.
Escaping the time limits could allow the project to go ahead as early as next summer, so that the new beachhead could be in place should another hurricane or early-season nor’easter strike the area next year.