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Aug 25, 2009 6:42 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Hurricane Bill waves keep swimmers out of ocean but don't stop surfers; beach erosion a concern

Aug 25, 2009 6:42 PM

Hurricane Bill bypassed Long Island, but its effects, including dangerous rip currents, were apparent on the South Fork over the weekend.

Ocean beaches in East Hampton and Southampton towns were closed to swimmers on Saturday and Sunday because of rip currents and waves caused by the hurricane, which was later downgraded to a tropical storm. But the same currents are a boon for surfers and the massive waves in Montauk, between 15 and 20 feet high, attracted many of them on Sunday.

“It’s some of the best waves we’ve had since 1989,” said veteran surfer Lutha Leahy-Miller of East Quogue, who spent his weekend at Montauk Point. He said there were at least 300 surfers in Montauk on Sunday and hundreds more spectators.

Such big waves come to the South Fork only a few times a year, when a hurricane or nor’easter is in town or nearby, Mr. Leahy-Miller said.

The weekend’s harsh waves raised erosion concerns, though. In some areas the ocean splashed well over the dunes.

Aram Terchunian and Billy Mack of First Coastal Corporation, an environmental consulting firm in Westhampton Beach, toured the coastline from Moriches to East Hampton on Monday to assess the erosion the waves wrought.

“We’ve lost huge parts of the seasonally wide beaches,” Mr. Mack said. “They’re just gone, washed back out into sandbars—which is why the surfing is so good.”

In some areas, the dunes actually gained 4 to 5 feet of sand, “but we’re left with no beaches,” he said. “It will take a couple weeks for those beaches to begin to recover. They won’t get back to where they were before the winter storm season.”

The hurricane caused extensive flooding on Dune Road through East Quogue and Hampton Bays. And “Sagaponack and Wainscott lost all of their protective beach, and areas of Sagaponack and Wainscott lost dunes,” Mr. Terchunian said.

At high tide at Sandbar Beach in East Quogue, the ocean came up and over the dune, knocking it down a bit and leaving debris in the parking lot, said Allyn Jackson, the supervisor of the Southampton Town Parks and Recreation Department. His department is sending in payloaders and other machines to clean up the debris.

Just two weeks ago, the Southampton Town Trustees had approved a pilot project in Sagaponack, near Gibson Lane, that used bulldozers to push sand from the beaches up into the dunes to widen the protective barriers. The project was billed as taking advantage of the wide summer beaches to capture some sand that would just be washed back to sea in the winter. As it happened, the sand would only have lasted another week.

Trustee Jon Semlear said the project had worked exactly as planned and would be something the Trustees will consider doing again to help bolster dunes, but he said it is not clear how much of the sand that was moved onto the dunes survived the storm.

“We haven’t been able to get down there since the surge so we don’t know how much of it survived,” he said. “It went well—they had a nice couple extra feet of dune there. It’s just a shame we had a damn event so soon after.”

The work done in Sagaponack, near Gibson Lane, was approved by the Trustees, but the work on the dunes was performed by private landowners.

Southampton Town beaches reopened to swimmers on Monday, but with red flags posted to warn of rough conditions. In East Hampton Town, swimmers were only allowed in the water up to their ankles on Monday morning, but they could enter the water up their chests in the afternoon. And Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy reopened all county-controlled beaches to swimmers on Monday, including Shinnecock East County Park at the Shinnecock Inlet and Theodore Roosevelt County Park in Montauk.

The National Weather Service had warned Friday that rip currents would be “life-threatening to anyone who enters the surf ... Strong rip currents can move you away from the shoreline very quickly.”

There were few people at Ponquogue Beach in Hampton Bays on Saturday afternoon, despite the high temperatures, and nobody was venturing into the rough, white-capped waves. On Sunday, lifeguards there kept beachgoers back from the water with a rope fence and prohibited anyone from even sticking their toes in the water.

At Rogers Beach in Westhampton Beach on Sunday, no one was allowed past the pavilion and onto the sand, which was roped off with police tape.

Day passes, which are usually available seven days a week, were not being sold on Saturday at Southampton Town beaches, and only those with a summer permit could park at the beach parking lots.

Staff writer Michael Wright contributed to this story.

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I understand there also was a washover at Pike's Beach where vehicles drive over to access the beach. Maybe it's time to make sure the primary and secondary dunes are protected from folks doing things they shouldn't be doing.
By stopdumbideas (10), Brookhaven on Aug 25, 09 11:09 PM
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