Representatives of Southold Town and Suffolk County are skeptical of either agency playing a role as the local partner in a $14.6 million U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project to shore up Hashamomuck Cove, and Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell says he plans to hold a meeting with homeowners within the next couple of weeks to discuss forming a special taxing district to allow property owners to pay for the local share of the project.
The Army Corps, state, county and town representatives sat down for a two-and-a-half hour roundtable discussion between the agencies and the public Wednesday morning, Feb. 7, at the Peconic Lane Community Center.
Southold’s Town Trustees had recently sent a letter to the Southold Town Board saying they are not in support of the project, which would entail trucking in 218,000 cubic yards of sand, and the Trustees would instead support a rock revetment along the hardest hit section of the cove.
Army Corps Planning Division Deputy Chief Stephen Couch gave attendees an overview of the Army Corps’ current proposed plan, which would be to create a sand berm 25 feet wide along the 8,400-foot length of the coastline.
The Army Corps estimates the sand will need to be replenished every five years during the 50-year length of the project, with 64,000 cubic yards of sand placed during each “renourishment,” at a total cost of $3.64 million.
The federal government would bear 65 percent of the initial cost, with 24.5 percent paid for by New York State and 10.5 percent paid for by a local partner. The federal government would pay 50 percent of the cost of renourishment, while the state would pay 35 percent and the local sponsor would pay 15 percent.
Using those figures, the local sponsor share would be $1.53 million for the initial cost and $546,000 for each renourishment.
Mr. Couch said the Army Corps expects to have a non-binding letter of support from a local partner by April of this year in order to submit a final report to the Assistant Secretary of the Army by summer of 2019. The project would then need to be approved by the U.S. Congress before construction could begin in the fall of 2020. Construction would be expected to take about one year.
Both Southold Town and Suffolk County representatives expressed skepticism about their potential role in the project.
Suffolk County Department of Public Works Chief Engineer Bill Hillman said the work would involve 7,900 full truckloads of sand traveling over county and local roads, presumably from a quarry source mid-island. Each truck, he said, would weigh 80,000 pounds, fully laden.
Mr. Hillman added that the cost of acquiring real estate for the project, which is borne by the local sponsor, could be quite extensive if it involved initiating court actions if the local sponsor needed to take a property through eminent domain. The project would not be able to proceed without all 76 property owners surrounding the cove agreeing to permanent easements on the area of their property where sand will be placed, allowing the public to use that portion of the beach.
Mr. Hillman said the county expects to take care of maintaining its road, County Road 48, which was breached by storm waves at Hashamomuck Cove during the Jan. 4, 2018 blizzard, regardless of what happens with the Army Corps plan.
The Army Corps is also asking the local sponsor to ensure public access and parking for all three areas of the cove. Southold’s Town Beach is in the westernmost area of the cove, while private homes make up much of the central cove. The Sound View Inn and Restaurant are in the eastern portion of the cove. Mr. Couch said the Army Corps is still working on guidelines for what would constitute an acceptable level of public access.
Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell said he’d spoken with East Hampton Town representatives who’ve said they expected to pay about $100,000 per year to maintain an oceanfront beach in Montauk sandbagged by the Army Corps, but have instead paid $1 million in one year to maintain the project.
DEC Coastal Management Section Chief Sue McCormick said the projected maintenance cost is “annualized over 50 years.”
“We all know that is not reality,” she said. “There are years of no costs and years of costs…. we’ve had some really bad costs. Who can predict what mother nature is going to do?”
“That’s the issue,” said Mr. Russell. “Who can predict what mother nature is going to do?”
Ms. McCormick said several North Shore towns, including Asharoken and Bayville, had considered going forward with Army Corps erosion control plans, but had opted out of the projects, deciding to instead depend on the Federal Emergency Management Agency for emergency repairs to their coastline. She cautioned, however, that FEMA pays for a lower percentage of the cost of its projects than the Army Corps.
She urged Southold representatives to discuss setting up an erosion control taxing district, which would include property owners surrounding the cove, with the Southampton Town Attorney’s Office.
“Southampton has a couple taxing districts, and they have successfully done beach nourishment projects,” she said.
The taxing district would require a public vote and enabling legislation from the New York State Legislature, and Mr. Russell said he doubts it could be set up before the Army Corps expects a letter from a local sponsor in spring of this year.
Southold Councilman Bob Ghosio said many residents had asked him why the sand was being trucked to the site and not dredged and pumped to the beach.
Mr. Couch said the cost to mobilize a dredge would be several million dollars, and it wouldn’t make economic sense to mobilize the dredge for the volume of sand to be used in this project.
Southold Councilwoman Jill Doherty asked who would pay if the trucks carrying the sand damage Southold’s roads.
Ms. McCormick said if the contractor that is chosen for the projects damages the roads, the contractor would be liable for the repairs, though the process would involve an investigation to determine if the trucks used for the project were the cause of the damage.
Some residents who live near the cove asked Mr. Russell, a former town assessor, if he’d considered the impact on town property tax collections if the houses were to disappear.
“My position is, what role should the town have in restoration of private property?” he said. “We have erosion all over Southold Town. Sometimes we lose tax base. Sometimes we gain tax basis.”
Kate Phelan, who lives on the cove, said she looked through the tax rolls and found the 76 property owners pay a combined $1 million in taxes.
Mr. Russell said their tax bills include all other taxing authorities, including schools and fire districts, and the town’s share of tax received would likely be in the range of $230,000 to $240,000.
Councilman Jim Dinizio added that many houses on the cove can be moved landward and saved from the pounding waves of the Sound.
Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski said he’d like to hear more about the Trustees’ revetment proposal, pointing out a successful revetment that was recently done along the west side of Goldsmith Inlet in Peconic. Mr. Krupski said the Suffolk County Legislature has not yet voted on whether to consider being a local sponsor of the project.
“As far as the road goes, I agree it’s more than just Southold’s issue,” he said. “It’s access to Greenport. It’s used by every resident in the county…. It’s an important artery that wouldn’t be forsaken easily.”
“This is a temporary solution to the problem,” said Southold resident Doug Hardy, who frequently reminds the board of scientific projections of sea level rise. He said current DEC estimates would put the sea level at about one foot higher when the Army Corps walks away from the contract in 50 years.
“Southold will be stuck again with a repetition of this project,” he said.
“It’s a true statement that our commitment is 50 years,” said Mr. Couch, adding that it is the Army Corps’ position that “any solution in this area is temporary.”