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Mar 23, 2015 11:33 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Lawsuit Filed Over Montauk Sea Wall

Mar 24, 2015 3:26 PM

An environmental activist group and members of the Surfrider Foundation have filed a lawsuit in state court to try to stop plans by East Hampton Town and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to erect a wall of giant sandbags across the oceanfront of downtown Montauk.

The suit, brought by the environmental advocacy organization Defend H20 and its supporters, says that the construction of the revetment across 3,200 feet of the beachfront will have wide-ranging negative impacts on the Montauk area and deviates from long-held policies for protecting coastlines in the region.

“The impacts are no less than the loss of our recreational beaches,” Kevin McAllister, Defend H2O’s founder and president, and the former Peconic Baykeeper, said. “In 1999, I commented on how progressive East Hampton was being in outlawing these hardening structures on the oceanfront in their [Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan]. Now, the town has gone ahead and approved this, in contradiction to the LWRP.”

Along with Defend H2O and Mr. McAllister, the plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Mike Bottini and Thomas Muse, members of the executive committee of the Eastern Long Island Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation; Jay Levine, a board member of the Concerned Citizens of Montauk; and Montauk resident Rav Friedel. The suit was filed by East Hampton attorney Carl Irace, also a member of the local Surfrider Foundation chapter’s executive committee.

Beyond the legal missteps the plaintiffs see in the approval of the project, they say the work threatens to leave Montauk without a traditional sand beach after storms, a prospect that would carry economic impacts.

“An oceanfront revetment in downtown Montauk will reduce the attractiveness and usability of the beach … and drive away tourists,” Mr. Irace said on Monday. “Nobody wants to go sit on a geo-bag on the beach—they want to sit on the sand.”

The core claim of the lawsuit is that in approving the project, designed to protect Montauk’s downtown from flooding, the town, state and federal agencies all violated long-standing statutes on the management of the coastline, particularly with regard to “hard” protective structures.

East Hampton’s LWRP, which was approved by the town in 1999 but didn’t take effect until 2007, outlawed the use of hardened structures to protect shorelines, except on a temporary basis under dire circumstances. The basis of the ban on revetments and bulkheads was concerns about the potential for magnified erosive effects at the periphery of such structures.

In a petition to the town last fall, the Surfrider Foundation said that several coastal geology experts who have examined the plans for Montauk have said the project would have an ill effect on the shorefront, particularly in the areas immediately adjacent to the east and west terminus of the revetments.

The plaintiffs say that the plans as designed could effectively wipe out the public beach in Montauk.

“In some cases, those hotels are sitting on top of the primary dunes, so in order to do this, they’ll be trying to establish a dune seaward of where the dune naturally wants to sit,” said Mr. Bottini, the chairman of the local Surfrider chapter. “So there will be this sort of bump-out, and on a new moon and full moon tide, portions of this are going to be right in the swash zone.”

The proposed project would line the oceanfront of downtown Montauk with some 14,000 sand-filled textile bags, linked together to form a wall to deflect waves driven ashore by severe storms. More than 70,000 tons of sand would be trucked in to bury the bags under artificial dunes, extending approximately 50 feet seaward. The plans call for a flat, 50-foot-wide ribbon of sand, mimicking the natural beach, to be laid along the seaward side of the hardened dune.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit say that sculpted beachhead will be quickly washed away by the wave action from even moderate storms, leaving the wall of sandbags exposed and burdening the town with the costs of rebuilding it regularly.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers awarded an $8.4 million contract to H&L Construction of Bay Shore to complete the work. According to the agreement, East Hampton Town and Suffolk County will share the costs of maintaining the revetment and the sand beachhead. Engineers have estimated the maintenance costs to be between $150,000 and $175,000 annually.

The Army Corps has described the project as a temporary stopgap for the protection of downtown Montauk’s hotels and businesses in the event of a severe coastal storm, while a more permanent solution is explored to address erosion of the beach and dunes that once offered natural protection to the low-lying downtown area.

After lobbying by local and state lawmakers and then-U.S. Representative Tim Bishop, the Army Corps added a major beach nourishment project to the list of considerations for the $800 million it received in federal aid after Superstorm Sandy. The project became part of the Fire Island to Montauk Point Reformulation Study, or FIMP, a decades-long examination of the Eastern Long Island coastline and a long list of recommendations for bolstering storm resiliency throughout.

“This is part of an emergency stabilization project that was authorized independently for Fire Island and Montauk specifically while the Army Corps figures out how it’s going to implement its full Fire Island to Montauk Point plan,” East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell said. “The Corps thinks the final Montauk work … will be made public around 2016, and we anticipate that a beach replenishment project would follow.”

But the plaintiffs say that the actual commencement of work on any of the dozens of projects included in the FIMP plan could be many years away, and that the installation of the sea wall in Montauk would be a far cry from the definition of temporary as envisioned in local laws.

“It’s bewildering that the town and the state and the Army Corps made this conclusory statement that this would be consistent with … the East Hampton LWRP, when it is explicitly prohibited,” Mr. Irace said. “There isn’t a plan for the removal, it’s just a guess. The LWRP allows for six months in an emergency, with a single three-month extension. This is 15 years, not six months or nine months.”

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not to mention it would seem that no handicap access is required.
By probuilt (1), astoria on Mar 23, 15 11:57 AM
1 member liked this comment
Thanks to all of you who are fighting to prevent the incompetent and indifferent bureaucrats from further destroying Montauk's coastline!
By Arnold Timer (306), Sag Harbor on Mar 23, 15 8:10 PM
Why is the Army Corp not implementing the Fire Island to Montauk Point (FIMP) plan instead of this rubbish of a band aide?
By Summer Resident (222), Southampton N.Y. on Mar 24, 15 12:17 AM
Good, that plan is a disaster!!
By sandydog21 (194), Southampton on Mar 24, 15 8:38 AM
This ridiculous and devastating plan needs to be stopped before we ruin othe beautiful Montauk public beaches. Thank God we have one more summer to convince others to support what the LWRP has already agreed is indefensible: putting a bunch of gravel bags in front of motels and calling that a solution.
By heidi rain (4), sag harbor on Apr 17, 15 12:10 PM
This ridiculous and devastating plan needs to be stopped before we ruin othe beautiful Montauk public beaches. Thank God we have one more summer to convince others to support what the LWRP has already agreed is indefensible: putting a bunch of gravel bags in front of motels and calling that a solution.
By heidi rain (4), sag harbor on Apr 17, 15 12:11 PM