East Hampton board argues over Montauk project…again

The majority on the East Hampton Town Board don't want to ask the Army Corps of Engineers to help shore up Ditch Plains Beach (pictured above).
The majority on the East Hampton Town Board doesn’t want to ask the Army Corps of Engineers to help shore up Ditch Plains Beach (pictured above).

No, alas, the East Hampton Town Board isn’t discussing the Montauk Project, the spooky conspiracy theory over purported time travel experiments conducted by the U.S. government at the Camp Hero Air Force Station.

Instead, they’re still bickering over emergency plans pitched last month by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to shore up the beaches near downtown Montauk against future hurricanes, with tens of million of dollars riding on whether East Hampton presents a united front to the Army Corps over whether the town wants the work done at all.

The money is part of $700 million in federal emergency response funding recently granted for protecting the south shore of Long Island after Hurricane Sandy, much of which is being used to raise houses and protect the coastline in future floods in Fire Island and other areas hit hard by the storm.

But a bunch of folks in Montauk don’t want the beaches shored up with rocks or bulkheads or groins, and are advocating that sand or “geotubes,” textile tubes filled with sand, be used in place of rocks to shore up the beach, and that the project be extended to help out Ditch Plains, a popular surfing beach about a mile east of downtown Montauk that has fared badly in recent storms.

Chris Poli, of the Montauk Citizens Advisory Committee, gave the board a resolution drafted by the CAC urging the town to hire a coastal engineer to weigh in on the Army Corps plan and to ask the Army Corps to look into replenishing sand on Ditch Plains Beach at the town board’s work session Tuesday morning.

But in a lengthy debate that was described by Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc as “dysfunctional,” other board members refused to send a letter to the Army Corps asking that Ditch Plains be considered, because, they said, the letter could put funding for the project in jeopardy.

Mr. Poli said the CAC’s resolution stipulates that the Ditch Plains request should be made only if it would not jeopardize the funding.

“The last coastal storm, which was modest by any measure, did significant damage at Ditch Plains,” said Mr. Poli. “I ask the town board to act on this, discuss it, and hear the wishes of the Montauk community.”

Board member Theresa Quigley, an attorney, said letters are perceived as threats in her field of work.

“When you put it into a letter form, it’s a threat. That’s what letters do,” she said. “It has to be done in a phone call. The salient point cannot be delay, delay, delay… I don’t need my name on a letter. I think it’s hubris for us to have our names on it.”

Mr. Van Scoyoc disagreed.

“I don’t think funds are at risk. The community is now saying this is something they want maintained for Montauk,” he said.

“Peter if you want the funds risked, make that $50 million bet,” countered Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson. “You are boring.”

Mr. Wilkinson, a Republican, added that he was dismayed by what he called some recent “misreporting” of a rough sketch of an idea for shoring up downtown Montauk that he sent to the Army Corps not long after Hurricane Sandy hit, which he sent without sharing with Democrats on the board. He defended the decision, saying it was made quickly and in the interest of the people of Montauk.

“When Sandy hit, I said I was going to send something in to the congressman to reserve a parking space [for funding],” he said. “If we didn’t say anything, we wouldn’t be on their list…. The Army Corps rejected Montauk completely in 2010. It didn’t fit into their calculation for return on investment.”

Mr. Wilkinson added that he had already gone back and forth on design suggestions with the Army Corps several times, and he wasn’t interested in risking the funding by asking them to reconsider whether Ditch Plains should be included.

“At this point, it’s foolish for us to gamble $50 million,” he said.

Mr. Poli said the community is in consensus about including Ditch Plains and consulting with a coastal engineer outside of the Army Corps.

“I implore the town board to show leadership…. The community of Montauk has asked you to do something. It’s very clear,” he said. “Write a letter as a consensus, including Ditch Plains in the study area. if you show leadership, you could guide the process. The Army Corps of Engineers has a mixed track record. In Westhampton Beach, they caused more damage than good. In Culloden Point, they did more damage than good. You should guide this. The community’s asking you to guide the discussion.”

Mr. Wilkinson said Montauk residents need to understand that something has to be done to protect them from hurricanes.

“You are one Category Two away from a big, big problem,” he said, adding that “in 64 years, no one got any action on the beach,” and he had finally gotten the Army Corps’ attention in Montauk.

Former East Hampton Village Administrator Larry Cantwell, who is running unopposed for town supervisor, told the board he has no intention of spending his old age debating what should be done to protect Montauk.

“I plan to be under the lighthouse catching fish in my old age,” he said.

“I’m already there,” said Mr. Wilkinson, who will leave office at the end of this year.

The Army Corps plans to come back to East Hampton in early November with cost projections for several options they have proposed.

Thursday night, Ms. Quigley introduced a last-minute “walk-on” resolution near the bitter end of a two-and-a-half hour meeting, which asked the town to officially tell the Army Corps they wanted them to focus on two options: putting a sand dune on the beach and putting a sand dune with rocks underneath it on the beach, and to add the option of using geotextile tubes instead of rocks.

The board voted four to one to approve the resolution, with Mr. Van Scoyoc saying he didn’t like the manner in which it was brought up.

“I object to the very late hour of discussing this without any opportunity for discussion,” he said, adding that the resolution was “probably the most important topic any of us will address on the town board.”

Ms. Overby said she was also upset that neither she nor Mr. Van Scoyoc saw the resolution before Ms. Quigley introduced it, but she voted for it.

“I’ll go in the record as saying I want to include Ditch Plains,” she said. “This is continuing the behind closed doors negotiations that go on here.”

Ms. Quigley told Ms. Overby she was being tacky.

Beth Young

Beth Young has been covering the East End since the 1990s. In her spare time, she runs around the block, tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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