Environmental Group Backs Sand Solution, Urges Community to Get Involved with Long-Term Plan for Coastal Resiliency
The following is a statement released by the Concerned Citizens of Montauk on Tuesday, Nov. 10 outlining their position on the geobag project currently underway along the downtown Montauk oceanfront:
CCOM believes strongly that the only long-term solution to the challenges of erosion and sea level rise facing the Montauk community is the pumping of sand from offshore to widen the beach and, eventually, the relocation of built infrastructure back from the water. Creating the funding streams and laws necessary to fulfill these planning initiatives will not come by simply opposing the Army Corps’ geobag project.
Since Hurricane Sandy, CCOM has been at the forefront of the public discussion and scientific analysis that previously had been lacking. Immediate action is required, but that action must be based on scientific expertise and long-term planning. In the past 2 years, CCOM has brought coastal experts to our community to shed new light on the best options available to ensure a long-term comprehensive plan, fought for the town to receive the grant funding necessary to inform and develop a long-term coastal plan and now serves on the town’s coastal committee, which is developing that plan.
Forget for a moment that much of the community sat out the last two-and-a-half years of debate surrounding the Army Corps of Engineers project now underway in downtown Montauk. Consider the project opponents’ argument on its merits. Are they correct that this project is not environmentally sustainable, expensive to maintain and could actually contribute to erosion? Yes, absolutely. CCOM is on the record for nearly three years making all of these same arguments.
The hole dug into the dune last week by the Army Corps’ contractor, H & L, is too big and, likely, unnecessary. In February of this year, CCOM raised this very issue with the Town Board, questioning the need and advisability of the proposed excavation of the native dune. To the best of our knowledge, CCOM is the only organization that reviewed this specific portion of the plan and pushed back against it.
Despite the many Town Board meetings over the last two-and-a-half years, public notices, articles in the paper, editorials, public hearings, citizens’ advisory committee meetings, letters to the editor and hours and hours of time this issue occupied on local television, East Hampton Town still has an ongoing responsibility to communicate clearly about this project and the longer term plans for managing our coastline.
Now that more people are finally engaged, the community needs a public meeting where the town, the Army Corps and the contractor can describe in very specific detail all aspects of this project.
Information to be provided should include: the exact design of the project, the justification for that design, the construction schedule, information about public access, road and beach closures during construction, public access after the project, and the projected maintenance budget.
Most importantly, the town board needs to state very clearly their goal for how quickly a beach nourishment project will create a broad sandy beach using sand pumped from offshore.
While there is great disagreement about the Corps’ geobag project, there is near unanimity in the community for pumping sand onto the beach. The Town Board needs to galvanize community support for the construction of a wide, sandy beach and spell out clearly how soon they think we can get there.
A beach nourishment projects can be paid for in two ways: federal funding through the Fire Island to Montauk Point Reformulation study (FIMP) or the establishment of a local tax district. After decades of delay, FIMP has finally become a real possibility with more than $700 million of federal funding appropriated by Congress following Hurricane Sandy.
The General Reevaluation Report, a critical step in the funding process, is scheduled for delivery in March 2016. The town has been told that the recommendation of that report is to use Montauk’s portion of the Hurricane Sandy FIMP money to pump sand from offshore to build a broad sandy beach as soon as 2018.
Imagine if 3,000 Montauk residents supported Congressman Lee Zeldin and U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Charles Schumer in this effort. All involved, regardless of their support or opposition to the current geobag construction, need to unanimously and immediately join in calling on our congressional delegation to support pumping sand in downtown Montauk.
Congressman Zeldin, who serves on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which oversees the annual Army Corps of Engineers budget, supports the sand-pumping project and would welcome an infusion of support. But we cannot leave Montauk’s fate to FIMP. We must also immediately begin work to create a local tax district (erosion control district) to fund sand pumping. Now is the time for the town board to lead the way toward a sand-pumping project.
For the record, CCOM believes that geobags are nobody’s preferred option. In a way, that makes them the perfect catalyst for moving forward on all available paths that could realistically fund or significantly fund beach nourishment. Downtown Montauk desperately needs a wide, sandy beach built ideally within the next three years, sooner if possible.
Community members opposing the geobag project have a responsibility to answer the question “What happens next if Montauk walks away from the geobag project?” The Army Corps will not pay for a sand-only option using these funds. With no other options, private property owners will have no choice but to apply for permits to build privately owned revetments. Whether through the courts, under emergency permits or general emergency permits (such as that issued following Hurricane Sandy) private property owners will eventually receive permission. Once in, these privately-owned structures will never be shrunk or removed. They will only grow.
Despite common belief to the contrary, the Town’s Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan (LWRP) will ultimately do little to stop the installation of revetments. Were the LWRP able to do so, the Montauk Shores Condominiums (which doubled the size of their seawall following Sandy) and the Royal Atlantic Hotel (which permanently installed a geotube after Sandy) would each have been prevented from doing so. The case law and the pattern are clear: The LWRP does not stop seriously imperiled properties from being reinforced with revetments.
All parties must realize they are not the only interest at the table. Yes, the beaches are Montauk. But so are the people and businesses that choose to be here. Geobags are not perfect, far from it. They are as close as we’ve got to a time-out while we get funding to build what comes next. As soon as we build an engineered beach, CCOM believes the geobags need to come out, completely.
Longer term, the community needs to acknowledge that not all of the oceanfront hotels will be in the same place or configuration they are today. How we get there together is part of the Coastal Adaptation and Resiliency Planning process ,which CCOM is proud to be part of, with several key partners. This process will be a fully transparent public planning process involving all stakeholders in jointly determining over the next 24 months what our coastline will look like for generations to come. We invite the whole of the Montauk community to say “yes” to sand and to make their voices heard through the coastal planning process.