Army Corps Considers More Sand For Montauk, Public Criticizes Sea Level Projections At FIMP Hearings
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is considering a major, sand-based expansion to its proposed work in downtown Montauk as part of the Fire Island to Montauk Point Reformulation Study.
Members of the FIMP project team acknowledged the recommendations of East Hampton Town’s consultants, First Coastal Corporation, which recommend placing nearly six times more sand along a length of Montauk oceanfront twice the length proposed in the Army Corps’ recently released draft plan, at a public informational meeting Wednesday evening at the Montauk Playhouse.
The meeting was the last of four held in communities along the 84-mile stretch of Long Island oceanfront that has been the subject of the FIMP study for 56 years.
At the two meetings held on the South Fork, at Montauk Wednesday and at Stony Brook Southampton Tuesday, many members of the public adamantly insisted that the Army Corps’ coastal proposals underestimate the degree of sea level rise expected over the course of the 21st Century.
Projects recommended for the East End include a 90-foot-wide berm and 15-foot-high dune along the barrier beach south of Westhampton and the shortening of 13 groins along the Westhampton shoreline, and the voluntary elevation of numerous homes in the floodplain.
It also calls for a “proactive breach response” plan along the barrier island fronting Shinnecock Bay, where the Army Corps plans in the future to restore dunes to 13 feet or higher and 90 feet wide and to enhance the resiliency of the dune and the salt marsh on the bay side at Tiana Beach.
The estimated cost of the project is $1.2 billion, funded at federal expense through the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013, passed just after Superstorm Sandy struck Long Island’s shore.
The study also recommends a sediment management plan for the controversial downtown Montauk beach stabilization project completed this past winter, which provides for the placement of about 120,000 cubic yards of sand on the front face of existing berms at each location approximately every four years “as advance fill to offset erosion.”
But scores of Montauk residents came out to the Montauk meeting to let the Army Corps know that, while they appreciated that the new plan calls for just sand and no more shoreline hardening structures, the area needs far more sand than projected in the document.
“One-hundred and twenty cubic yards every four years is inadequate protection in light of Superstorm Sandy and Hermine,” East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell told the engineers. “It does not consider damages to property, underestimates both seasonal and long-term erosion, and fails to factor in the influence of sea level rise.”
Mr. Cantwelll said the town’s consultants, First Coastal Corporation in Westhampton, recommend an initial placement of 760,000 cubic yards of sand distributed over 6,000 linear feet of shoreline, with an additional 414,000 cubic yards of sand replenished every four years.
The current plan calls for the sand to be distributed along 3,300 linear feat of shoreline.
“The town’s analysis reveals sufficient benefits to justify the expansion of the FIMP plan for downtown Montauk to a full scale beach renourishment project,” said Mr. Cantwell, who was greeted with hearty applause by the audience.
Coastal geologist Aram Terchunian of First Coastal Corporation elaborated on his company’s findings, pointing out the flaws in the Army Corps’ analysis of the economic importance of the project. There are more than 800 hotel rooms in downtown Montauk, he said, and “bookings decrease 50 percent or more when beaches are in a narrow condition.”
“The Corps needs to maintain a beach 50 feet wide at a 9 foot level,” he said.
Steve Couch, who heads the Army Corps’ Hurricane Sandy recovery planning division, told the crowd that Mr. Cantwell’s statement “is really in line with what we’re thinking as far as the scope of the project in downtown Montauk.”
He said the Army Corps plans to go back to the drawing board and beef up its sand proposal for downtown Montauk.
“Our analysis confirms what Aram mentioned,” he added. “We’re certainly consistent in our application of what is an appropriate size of a project out there.”
Kevin McAllister of Defend H2O made impassioned pleas at both the Montauk and Southampton meeting that the Army Corps “give real credence to relocation” of the vulnerable front row of hotels in Montauk and of other structures throughout the FIMP study area.
He added that the range of possible levels of sea level rise projected by the Army Corps between now and 2100 is lower than figures drafted by New York State.
“Sea level rise is real and imminent. The Army Corps has been cavalier in response to these changes,” he said. “We need to get a sizeable beach in there and get the primary dune into a totally functioning dune, but we need to move back front row. I’m not a proponent of beach nourishment for the long term. It’s not economically or environmentally sustainable. It’s a stop-gap measure.”
His comments in Montauk were met with hearty applause.
Jeremy Samuelson of Concerned Citizens of Montauk, said that both environmentalists and members of the business community are “willing and open to a large-scale sand project.”
“Our community has worked very hard to come to a central ground. For many of us, this hasn’t been easy,” he said, adding that Montauk residents support sand-only solutions “as we transition away from the shoreline over time.”
Several members of the public questioned why Ditch Plains, just east of downtown Montauk, wasn’t included as a feeder beach in the Army Corps’ plan.
Lou Cortese of the Ditch Plains Association said he thinks the plan should be called FIDM, not FIMP, since it does not address any area east of downtown Montauk, which is a little more than five miles west of Montauk Point.
Mr. Cortese said there is $200 million worth of property in Ditch Plains, a residential area surrounding one of the best surfing beaches on the East End, which he called “an economic driver for the Town of East Hampton.
Mr. Couch, of the Army Corps, disagreed.
“A lot of development in Ditch Plains is different than what you see in downtown Montauk,” he said, adding that a lot of the buildings downtown are right by the beach and directly subject to wave action and erosion, while buildings in Ditch Plains are set back from the water and are only subject to flooding.
“I’m not sure the benefits are there to offset the costs,” he said.
In both East Hampton and Southampton, fishermen raised concerns about the habitat in areas off the south shore that may be used as sources of sand for the FIMP projects. Army Corps staff said the areas will undergo environmental analysis as part of the permitting process for the projects, and that the habitat at the dredge sites is expected to recover in between three months and a year.
In response to several questions about the damage done to the interim sandbag project by the nor’easter named Hermine earlier this month, Army Corps coastal engineer Lynn Bocamazo said the project “did what it was supposed to do.”
Ms. Bocamazo said that, just after the storm, 37 of the 11,000 geotextile bags filled with sand were exposed due to scouring of the beach by several days of heavy waves, but the beach has already begun to recover, and currently only six bags are exposed.
While the Army Corps staff said none of the new FIMP projects involve sandbags, there is no plan to remove the sandbags already placed in downtown Montauk.
Reactions to the plan were more muted over in Southampton Town.
“There are a lot of things that I think are good for the town, especially west of Shinnecock Inlet,” said Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman. “One thing that’s not in the document that I was hoping for was a commitment to elevating Dune Road. That road routinely floods. I would really like to see the document amended for elevating the land mass beneath that road.”
Mr. Schneiderman called the Army Corps’ commitment to raising homes “significant,” adding that 400 houses along Shinnecock Bay would be eligible to be raised.
“On the whole, I’m pleased. I think this has been a good approach,” he said. “But with coming to the town looking for some kind of financial commitment, we need to be careful what we do to make sure ongoing costs are within the town’s means. Obviously, we have limited resources.”
The initial project will be funded 100 percent by the federal government, but the cost of follow-up projects would be split, with 65 percent funded by the federal government and 35 by the local sponsor, in this case the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Regular maintenance and surveys of the beaches would be done by local municipalities, which would also be responsible for providing public access plans to allow any member of the public to access the beach.
Susan McCormick of the DEC said at both meetings that the Army Corps will be getting out of the beach renourishment business in 30 years, and will only maintain other aspects of the FIMP project, like management of breaches in the barrier islands, for 20 years after that.
“It’s predominantly climate change and sea level rise, and the cost to the government to keep supporting risky areas,” she said. “We want to put people on notice. Your mortgage should be paid off by then.”
Ms. McCormick added that the Shore Protection Act calls for homeowners near the ocean to develop erosion control districts, and be their own local sponsor for maintaining the shoreline.
“In the Town of Southampton, you have quite a few of those. That’s people taking care of their own future,” she said at the Southampton meeting. “Retreat is inevitable and it has to come to the shorefront because the sea level rise is coming.”
Mr. Couch said the 30-year clock begins when construction is expected to begin in 2018.
After the public comment period is closed, the Army Corps expects to finalize its plan and present it to Congress by October of 2017. If approved by Congress, the engineering and design process would begin in 2018, with construction expected to begin late in 2018.
Written public comments are being accepted through Oct. 19 by mail or email at The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New York District, Planning Division-Environmental Branch (ATTN: Mr. Robert Smith) 26 Federal Plaza, New York, New York 10278-0090, or to: Project Biologist Robert.J.Smith@usace.army.mil and Project Manager