Extensive augmenting of a hardened seawall at a fourth oceanfront estate in Southampton Village has raised new objections from the Southampton Town Trustees, who say the work far exceeds permitted activity—and has attracted the attention of state environmental officials.
On the heels of the installation of two steel walls stretching across three properties and nearly 1,000 feet of village shoreline last week—a project the Trustees also questioned—workers began depositing hundreds of boulders, many weighing several tons each, along the property’s eroded oceanfront at 104 Gin Lane.
The estate is owned by hedge fund investor Chris Shumway, who paid a reported $60 million for it in 2008. It neighbors the estate of fellow hedge fund investor Joshua Harris, where a 250-foot steel wall was erected along the shoreline in recent weeks. Last month, an even longer steel bulkhead was erected across the front of two estates, one owned by technology investor and film studio head Mark Rachesky.
The Town Trustees said this week that a rock revetment had been built at Mr. Shumway’s property in the early 1980s by a prior owner, with their permission, and that they had recently issued a new permit to representatives of Mr. Shumway to reconstitute the barrier using the original rocks. But the Trustees say the work that is being done is clearly well beyond the bounds of the work they approved.
“He claimed the rocks from the original revetment had dispersed over the years and needed to be restored to be effective,” Trustee Fred Havemeyer said. “We gave him a permit to use the rocks on the site and, basically, just re-pile them. But they are bringing in truckloads of additional rocks.”
Officials from the State Department of Environmental Conservation, which has also issued permits for the work, visited the project site on Monday as gargantuan bulldozers and dump trucks dropped new boulders into place. A spokesman said that the agency was investigating the permits but could not comment on the project or the details of the permits issued.
The DEC also is examining the permits and the process by which they were issued for Mr. Harris’s and Mr. Rachesky’s properties. All work along the shoreline requires permission from the DEC, though in most cases the agency delegates authority for granting permits to local municipalities. The Town Trustees claim the authority to regulate any such work on the oceanfront as well, although they have battled with villages over the boundary of their jurisdiction.
The steel walls built at the Rachesky and Harris properties did not receive Trustees permits because attorneys representing the owners claimed that the walls were being erected landward of the crest of the natural dunes—the accepted threshold of Trustees jurisdiction—though no natural dunes exist along most of the oceanfront of eastern Southampton Village.
The Trustees have banned the construction of hardened structures along the town’s oceanfront for more than two decades, citing concerns that such measures exacerbate beach erosion during storm events and could threaten the existence of natural beachheads as sea levels rise. The board has intermittently allowed the replacement or repair of existing sea walls, bulkheads and revetments, which were commonly installed at many properties in Southampton Village in the first half of the 20th century. Village officials have said that since the walls exist on many properties already, it makes sense to allow those properties that don’t have hardened protection to install them so that they don’t suffer from the ill effects of their neighbors’ walls.
In 2010, the Trustees filed a lawsuit against Quogue Village for allowing two property owners to bury giant sandbags in the dunes without Trustees permission. A judge ruled that the sandbags could remain because they lay outside of the Trustees’ jurisdiction, where the village administers the state permit process.
In 2011, the state threatened to revoke Quogue Village’s authority to grant state permits along the oceanfront because of what they said was an inadequate review process.
Trustee Eric Shultz said that the Trustees have spoken with DEC Regional Director Peter Scully to discuss the state’s monitoring of the work done with DEC permits along the Southampton shoreline and the delegating of state authority to the villages. He said that Mr. Scully acknowledged that agents who had inspected the steel walls at the Harris and Rachesky properties had said that the structures did not appear to comply with the permits issued or the scope of the work described in the applications.
Michael Walsh, an attorney representing Mr. Shumway, would not comment on the Trustees’ objections to work being done on the rock revetment.