Pictured Above: Hashamomuck Cove as seen from the end of Soundview Avenue after a storm in the winter of 2018.

Southold Town is embarking this coming year on a Coastal Resiliency Preparedness Action Plan, after former Town Supervisor Scott Russell included $100,000 to start work on the plan in his 2024 budget adopted this fall.

The town, at the far easternmost reach of the North Fork, has a lot of coastline to be concerned about. According to its 2020 Comprehensive Plan, Southold Town, which is filled with creeks and marshes and coves, has 210 miles of coastline, with more than 1,100 homes and many businesses located in the flood zone, and the potential for as much as 10 inches of sea level rise in the 2020s alone.

A coastal resiliency plan is one of the top priorities of the Natural Hazard section of the Comprehensive Plan, along with participating in updates and implementing the recommendations for hazard mitigation in Suffolk County’s Multi-Jurisdictional All-Hazard Mitigation Plan.

The town’s Coastal Resiliency Preparedness Action Plan outlined in the Comprehensive Plan would identify the best models for sea level rise and audit town and regional existing coastal resilience regulations to asses “their effectiveness in mitigating the effects of coastal hazards.”

When asked by Cutchogue Civic Association President Dave Bergen to keep the plan on the front burner at a Sept. 26 town board meeting, Mr. Russell said he hopes civic groups will help with the process.

“Our planning staff is overburdened,” he said, adding that the town’s funding can be used to match state grants. 

Mr. Bergen said Southold would do well to have a look at East Hampton Town’s Coastal Assessment and Resiliency Plan, adopted in 2022, which he said is “considered the gold standard plan.”

“Thank you for putting it in your budget,” said Mr. Bergen, adding that the plan will be a high priority for civic groups. “It’s going to take a couple of years to develop, and mother nature is not going away.”

Mr. Russell said he would caution against modeling Southold’s plan after the one in East Hampton.

“East Hampton heavily relies on sand retention programs that don’t work,” he said, pointing out the pitfalls the town and the Army Corps of Engineers have had trying to shore up the ocean beach adjacent to downtown Montauk. “We’re not surrounded by ocean, which has some advantages… But there are going to be challenges to property rights.”

The county’s All Hazard Mitigation Plan also includes mitigation measures for extreme temperature and drought, along with flooding and storms.

Southold’s mitigation measures in the county plan include retrofitting evacuation routes to protect them from flood hazards, considering relocation or elevation of structures in the floodplain and stabilizing vulnerable bluffs.

The Comprehensive Plan also recommends the town re-examine the location of the Coastal Erosion Hazard Area line mapped out by the state Department of Environmental Conservation in the late 1980s and complete a post-disaster recovery and reconstruction plan, as well as provide public education on natural hazards.

There’s one area where Southold seems to have fully come to terms with the reality of what it will cost to shore up the coastline. 

Back in 2019, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers came up with a $19.5 million plan to restore the beach and build a series of groins at Hashamomuck Cove, on the Long Island Sound adjacent to Route 48 in the area surrounding the dwindling Town Beach.

The Army Corps’ plan was to have the federal government pay 50 percent of the cost of the project, have New York State pay 25 percent and a ‘local sponsor’ pay the remaining 25 percent. The local sponsor would also be charged with replenishing the beach to a standard set by the federal government every five years, at a cost estimated by the Army Corps at the time to be $1.25 million every five years.

Southold was unwilling at the time to sign up to be the local sponsor, and though the town worked to see if the 43 property owners along the stretch of the cove impacted by the project would be willing to be part of a special taxing district to fund the restoration, they received little support from landowners.

The Army Corps recently asked the town to write a new letter of support for the project. 

“I’m not going to spend a dime protecting 43 private property owners,” said Mr. Russell at the town board’s Nov. 8 work session. “I feel bad for them, but we can’t be in the business of protecting private properties, particularly for that kind of money.”

“I do not want to put my name on a letter saying we’re committing a 25 percent share,” he added. “We did it once, and the special district didn’t go anywhere, and we have no other conceivable source of income.”

Mr. Russell added that he believes the regular beach replenishment will cost far more than the Army Corps estimate.

“One nor’easter times out that beach, and we’re out there putting down sand,” he said. “I want to say thank you, but no thank you. We’re done here.”

—BHY

Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she 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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