Cosmetics mogul Ronald Lauder has not yet made a decision on whether he will seek to rebuild his small oceanfront cottage in Wainscott, which was almost destroyed during Hurricane Sandy.
But contractors for Mr. Lauder’s family do plan to start bringing in thousands of tons of sand to reshape a semblance of the natural dunes that once protected the small cottage and stretched across the entire southern end of Wainscott Pond.
William Fleming, the East Hampton lawyer representing Mr. Lauder, said this week that the Lauders want to see the entire dune restored, not only to protect their extensive land holdings along the oceanfront and shores of the pond, but to protect all the properties along the pond and inland from the flooding effects of another severe storm that might wash over the sandy barrier and through the pond to the farm fields to the north.
“At the [Wainscott School] the grade is only about 8 feet above sea level,” Mr. Fleming said of the tiny local public school on the corner of Wainscott Hollow Road. “They’re apprehensive about the potential for another washover and flooding and the damage to other properties on the pond.”
But Mr. Fleming said that no plans have been formulated yet to rebuild the small cottage. He would not expound on what some of the alternatives to rebuilding the Lauders may be considering.
The tiny cottage had teetered on the brink of destruction for years. It had been about four years since severe erosion had erased the last of the natural dunes between the cottage and the ocean. Since 2010, the only barrier protecting it from storm-driven waves was a row of boulder-sized sandbags, known as Geocubes, and a berm of sand that was periodically replenished by the heaping truckload. The large sandbags held up to a pair of strong nor’easters that year, and the house survived.
But Sandy’s storm surge entirely submerged the row of sandbags—they remained largely intact following the storm—and sent the towering waves slamming straight into the home. When the ocean receded, all that remained standing was the rear wall of the house and stairs leading up to the back door. The rest—everything from roofing material to couch cushions and beach towels—was scattered across the northern shores of the pond.
The waves also washed unabated across the narrow strip of beach that separated the pond from the ocean, turning the pond, for several hours, into a saltwater bay. Most of the fish in the pond were killed by the intrusion of saltwater.
Mr. Fleming said that the Lauders’ plan is to rebuild a new, higher sand barrier across the entire beachfront at the southern end of the pond, connecting the family’s properties on the western and eastern sides of the pond. The sand will be trucked in and piled along the beachhead. How much sand would be required was not yet clear, Mr. Fleming said.
By right, Mr. Lauder could rebuild the cottage where it stood, with some improvements to its foundation. But East Hampton Town Trustee Diane McNally said she and members of her board would rather see the house relocated to another portion of Mr. Lauder’s extensive land holdings in the area.
“We have to ask: Is it wise to rebuild there?” she said. “There’s not a lot of land for that one tax parcel, but the family owns a lot of property all around the pond there. Maybe if somebody started to think outside the box, something could be done to replace the house, whether it is consideration of a lot line modification or something like that to put it elsewhere.”
Ms. McNally said that the Trustees already harbor concerns about the impact of the house’s destruction, and rebuilding a new house in the direct path of any future hurricane or severe winter storm raises the specter of environmental damage again. Fiberglass insulation, plastic wiring, paint, cleaning chemicals and any other of a host of potentially toxic substances contained in a house were effectively dumped into the pond when the house went down, she noted.
Mr. Fleming said he could not discuss the possibilities the family might consider for relocating or rebuilding the house.
Ms. McNally said that, in general, she would think that the effects of Sandy across the entire Northeastern Seaboard should have opened the eyes of oceanfront property owners that long-accepted means of protecting their homes may not be sufficient in the future.
“Hopefully, this storm made people aware of how vulnerable we are,” she said. “There is nothing we can do to hold back Mother Nature.”