Oceanfront property owners in Water Mill, Bridgehampton and Sagaponack will cast votes this weekend to decide whether Southampton Town should embark on a $25 million project—largely funded by those same taxpayers—to rebuild beaches along a six-mile stretch of Atlantic Ocean coastline that has long suffered from chronic severe erosion.
Voting will take place on Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., at Town Hall, though many of the 193 eligible voters had already cast absentee ballots by early in the week.
The mammoth beach reconstruction, if approved, would be funded with a municipal bond from Southampton Town, repaid over 10 years through a special tax levied only on those oceanfront properties within the project’s reach, by way of two oceanfront taxing districts. Southampton Town would contribute $1.5 million to the cost of the project from a reserve fund of parks fees charged to developers—with no tax impact on town residents.
If the project is approved, taxes would be levied on the homeowners according to formulas primarily based on the linear feet of frontage on the beach. In Sagaponack, the calculation also takes into account assessed value—a caveat that captures the immense value of the 63-acre estate owned by Ira Rennert.
Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said this week that the town would be looking into whether the project would be eligible for funding assistance provided by the $50.5 billion package of federal disaster aid approved this week to help with the recovery from Hurricane Sandy and mitigation of future storm impacts. But she said town officials do not expect federal funding will cover the work and are moving forward on that assumption.
“It sounds like a lot of money, but it’s not, and there is a lot of need,” she said of the billions of dollars that will be funneled into the region but will be split among hundreds of communities battered by the storm. “One of the questions we do have is that, if in the event there is funding for sand renourishment projects like this, what areas would the Army Corps [of Engineers] have on their schedule? If this fits the plan then maybe we could get some assistance there.”
Coastal engineering consultant Aram Terchunian, whose Westhampton Beach-based company, First Coastal, has spearheaded the design, planning and public campaign of the beach rebuilding project, said he would expect the town to try to find some Sandy aid to either offset the costs of the project or expand its scope. But he, too, acknowledged that it was unlikely the project would receive any aid.
The project calls for some 2.5 million tons of sand to be sucked up by a giant dredge ship from the ocean bottom about one mile offshore, and pumped onto the beaches and into the near-shore surf line. The work has been billed as replacing about 10 years of eroded sand. Following Hurricane Sandy, the scope of the project was increased by about 10 percent to make up for the additional losses during the first hurricane-force storm to strike the East End in more than 20 years.
There are 141 properties along the oceanfront in the two taxing districts, which stretch from Flying Point Beach in Water Mill to the eastern border between Sagaponack Village and East Hampton Town. Five of the properties are municipal beaches owned by Southampton Town, which prompted the town’s $1.5 million contribution.
Initially, plans had been to allow only one person to vote per property and for each property owner to vote only once, regardless of the number of properties owned. But the town attorney’s office advised allowing any persons whose names are listed on the deeds to a property to vote. Each may still vote only once, regardless of how many properties are owned.
According to Town Clerk Sundy Schermeyer, there are 79 oceanfront properties in the Bridgehampton Beach Erosion Control District, and 112 eligible voters. There are 54 oceanfront properties in the Sagaponack Beach Erosion Control District, and 81 eligible voters.
Two property owners, the White family in Sagaponack and the Bridgehampton Club, will be eligible to vote in the referendum but are expected to ultimately be exempted from paying the bulk of the taxes they would originally be assessed, because both have conservation easements over the large swaths of oceanfront land they own. Members of the Bridgehampton Club Board of Directors said this week that they have instructed the club’s controller, Gayle Donahue, to cast its single vote in favor of the project. The White family could not be reached for comment on the vote.
As of Tuesday, 80 voters had submitted absentee ballots. Ms. Schermeyer said she would allow absentee ballots to be cast in person at Town Hall on Thursday and Friday by residents who cannot be present for the Saturday polling.