East Hampton Ready To Put All Its Coastal Resilience Options On The Table

Pictured Above: An aerial view of the sandbagged beach in downtown Montauk after the recent storms |. East Hampton Town photo

East Hampton Town is requesting an amendment to the Army Corps of Engineers project slated to begin in downtown Montauk this winter to incorporate damage to its sandbagged beach there during three recent storms, as New York Governor Kathy Hochul announced this week that she is authorizing $3 million in funding to support stabilization of Suffolk County’s shoreline and a beach replenishment project on Fire Island.

East Hampton Town is also asking for a “betterment” option for the Army Corps to shore up the area around Ditch Plains, which the agency has in the past not been willing to protect.

The town is also considering engaging the Ditch Plains community about the prospect of forming an Erosion Control District, a special taxing district that could be used to protect homes in the area from the ocean.

One of the dune crossovers built as part of the Army Corps 2015 project in downtown Montauk after the recent storms  |. East Hampton Town photo
One of the dune crossovers built as part of the Army Corps 2015 project in downtown Montauk after the recent storms |. East Hampton Town photo

In a Jan. 25 letter to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s Coastal Erosion Management Section, East Hampton Town Supervisor Kathy Burke-Gonzalez asked the DEC to amend the Army Corps’ Fire Island to Moriches Inlet (FIMI) project, which includes dredging 450,000 cubic yards of sand onto the ocean beach in front of downtown Montauk, to include repairs to the geotextile sandbags that were exposed in storms on Dec. 18, 2023 and Jan 9-10 and Jan. 12, and repair four pedestrian dune crossovers that were installed as part of the Army Corps’ 2015 Downtown Montauk Stabilization project, authorized in the wake of Superstorm Sandy.

Both the FIMI project and the Downtown Montauk Stabilization Project are part of the Army Corps Fire Island to Montauk Point (FIMP) project to protect the South Shore of Long Island authorized by Congress in 1960.

Ms. Burke-Gonzalez also asked the DEC to request the Army Corps perform a new beach profile survey to determine if more sand is needed to restore the original project design to its 2015 standard. 

Ditch Plains after the recent storms  |. East Hampton Town photo
Ditch Plains after the recent storms |. East Hampton Town photo

In Ditch Plains, she said the storm damage “has left the beach profile non-existent and down to the hard pan. There have been dune breaches, flooding and damage to homes and infrastructure.” 

She added that the town is currently evaluating the volume of sand needed for this project.

Residents of Ditch Plains have been asking the Army Corps to include their neighborhood in the plan for sand for downtown Montauk since the Army Corps first laid out the details of the  project to the community back in 2016, but Army Corps representatives have in the past rebuffed their requests, stating that downtown Montauk is subject to wave action and erosion, while houses at Ditch Plains are set further back from the water and only experience flooding.

Downtown Montauk is also an economic driver for the town, though residents of Ditch Plains have said the value of their properties should be taken into account in any discussion of the economic impact of the Army Corps’ priorities.

East Hampton Town Board members agreed at their Jan. 23 work session to put a resolution on their Feb. 1 agenda to hire a surveyor to create a current coastal profile of Ditch Plains. 

Town Senior Environmental Analysis Samantha Klein, who worked to develop the town’s Coastal Assessment Resiliency Plan (CARP), also gave an overview of CARP’s recommendations for Ditch Plains.

“An erosion control district is an available option,” she said. “Members would choose to be in a (taxing) district area and it would be a funding source, if it’s something that’s desired by the Ditch community.”

“The funding sources is going to be very important,” said Councilman David Lys, who has been working for years on bringing the FIMP project to Montauk. “FIMP was looked at as a 30-year stopgap in coastal resiliency. Every four years, the town will have to come up with nearly 15 percent of what the costs will be. That will be a couple million dollars every four years. How do we do that?”

“Even though the Governor came through and gave us some funding for the project, the Army Corps of Engineers still has to authorize the use of the dredge to do so,” he added.

In addition to the erosion control district, Mr. Lys said he’s heard some members of the Montauk community suggest a beverage tax to be used to protect the hamlet’s shoreline.

Ms. Klein said the town will work to “create a safe and sustainable beach for this summer, season,” but “the dunes and the bluffs are trying to retreat but our existing development doesn’t give them the space to do so. Long-term solutions are difficult to implement.”

She added that the plan also recommends the town form a committee of environmental experts to review whether the town’s codes are keeping pace with the changing environment, and a committee to make a plan for resiliency of coastal roads. It also recommends the town take hazard mitigation steps that will count toward the Community Rating System FEMA uses to determine flood insurance rates.

“We need to look at our coastline from Montauk Point to Ditch,” said Councilwoman Cate Rogers. “Why is Ditch getting starved? Where is its sand going? We need to look to experts in coastal morphology to tell us what needs to be done.”

She added that the town could also ask its Community Preservation Fund Director, Scott Wilson, to again reach out to homeowners in low-lying areas to see if they are willing to sell their properties to the CPF.

“That’s part of the continuing discussion as we seek solutions,” she said.

Governor Hochul also announced a Comprehensive Resiliency Plan in her 2024 State of the State address earlier in January, which would include a “Blue Buffers Voluntary Buyout Program,” to encourage homeowners in areas most vulnerable to flooding to sell their properties to the state. It would also create a fund to help low and moderate income homeowners with proactive flood mitigation and repairs, make investments in state disaster response and update Coastal Erosion Hazard Area maps.

Otis Road in Ditch Plains after the recent storms  |. East Hampton Town photo
Otis Road in Ditch Plains after the recent storms |. East Hampton Town photo

“The first thing we have to remember here is personal safety,” said East Hampton Councilman Tom Flight, who serves as a volunteer EMT and firefighter with the Montauk Fire Department. “Buildings compare nothing to a loss of life. In that sense, the timing of getting reports out to residents is critical. We talked about two to two-and-a-half feet of inundation, and that’s almost exactly what we saw…. We need to start communication with residents in the most vulnerable areas. We’ve lost people in storms in the past. We don’t want that to happen again.”

“There needs to be a greater line of communication for emergency management,” agreed Mr. Lys. “These storms technically were not declared by the county as an emergency. We know our tides and our areas best. This is not new to Long Island.”

“We aren’t going to win. The ocean will do what it’s going to do,” said new Councilman Ian Calder Piedmonte. “We have to get to a point where everyone recognizes they live in a hazardous place. We have to acknowledge that as the reality. I don’t think that stops us from doing something to stabilize things, but I don’t think we can keep throwing sand forever as a solution.”

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