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Army Corps Will Rebuild Beaches In Hampton Bays, East Quogue With FIMP Funding

Posted on August 4, 2016


Residents of East Quogue and East Hampton both held discussions this week on how to appeal to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to increase the amount of sand they plan to deposit on South Fork beaches in the coming years as part of a broad effort to improve Long Island’s ability to weather strong storms.

Residents of the Tiana Erosion Control District met last weekend with U.S. Representative Lee Zeldin and Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman to discuss the more than 1.5 million tons of sand that the Army Corps has proposed pumping onto Tiana and other beaches in East Quogue and Hampton Bays to bolster the section of barrier island that was nearly breached during storms in 2014.

The project will restore about 2.5 miles of beach, from Road L in Hampton Bays to just west of the Quogue Village line, to a height of 9 feet and a width of 90 feet—specifications that the Army Corps considers stalwart enough to withstand a major storm impact without breaching. Once replenished, the beach will be nourished every two years with sand dredged from Shinnecock Inlet, according to the plan.

At the recent Tiana Erosion Control District meeting, the discussion focused on whether the Army Corps could be convinced to boost the engineering of the beach a bit, adding an additional slug of sand along the full stretch to stave off the slower attrition of gradual erosion between storms. East Hampton Town officials also gathered in a less public meeting with state and federal officials last week to discuss avenues by which they might convince the Army Corps to rethink its chosen approach to bolstering Montauk’s ocean beaches.

With the Army Corps officially releasing the more than 400-page Fire Island to Montauk Point Reformulation Plan this week, East Hampton Town Board members, State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele and aides to Mr. Zeldin and Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand met to discuss how the town might get the Army Corps to construct a fully rebuilt beach, like they will do in Tiana and have done in West Hampton Dunes, on a regular basis for 20 years. The Fire Island to Montauk Point Reformulation Plan, or FIMP for short, is in its first draft and recommends only the quadrennial replenishment of about 180,000 tons of sand onto the beach at the western end of the business district in Montauk to ensure that a revetment of sandbags buried beneath artificial dunes last winter remains covered.

The plan makes a similar recommendation for the beachfront in Sagaponack, where oceanfront residents picked up the tab of a $25 million beach rebuilding project along six miles of beach in 2013. The draft also recommends shortening some of the Westhampton groins and for dredging Shinnecock Inlet every two years and Moriches Inlet annually.

The plan does not make any recommendation for funding a raising of Dune Road, which some Southampton Town officials had been pushing as a protective measure against a breach of the barrier island. And it makes no mention of an alternative discussed a few years ago for a broad rebuilding of the beaches in Montauk.

“We’d like to see what they are proposing doubled or even tripled,” East Hampton Town Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc told Montauk residents on Monday night. “They have specific formulas for how they calculate risk and damages … We believe that the Army Corps has vastly undervalued Montauk.”

Mr. Van Scoyoc, however, was realistic about the uphill fight the town will have to change the Army Corps’ long-held position that the beaches off Montauk’s downtown are not physically suited or economically justifiable as a place for a major “beach fill” project like is planned along broad swaths of Fire Island.

“Everybody is trying to expand their projects in their communities,” he added, with a nod to the discussion in Tiana and elsewhere. “So there’s going to be some competition.”

He noted that the Army Corps has already almost doubled its projections of the cost to implement the full FIMP, from the initial $700 million in the wake of Hurricane Sandy in 2012 to some $1.3 billion, with the costs likely to rise again by the time the final work plan is approved. The work will be funded from the more than $30 billion approved by Congress after Sandy for recovery and resiliency improvements along the Tri-State coastline.

East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell said this week that he plans to present the full Town Board with a proposal to hire Westhampton coastal engineering firm First Coastal to represent the town on an application for the envisioned larger project. First Coastal has represented West Hampton Dunes Village and Southampton Town in the planning and oversight of massive Army Corps beach construction projects. Mr. Cantwell also said that Mr. Zeldin’s office plans to set up face-to-face meetings between the town’s representatives and the Army Corps.

Mr. Cantwell and the Town Board took a heap of criticism last fall and winter as contractors for the Army Corps began excavating the Montauk beachfront and erecting the sandbag wall. Dozens of residents, incensed by the sight of bulldozers excavating the tallest natural dunes in the downtown area, flooded Town Board meetings and rekindled the strong criticisms of the project by environmentalists during the initial debates of the revetment proposal two years earlier.

Board members defended their decision to allow the revetment, saying that the project would be a Band-Aid and a stop-gap until the larger beach reconstruction could be done. Now it looks like the envisioned second phase of the project might not happen.

There is room for the town to maneuver, however. Army Corps spokesman Jim D’Ambrosio said that the Army Corps’ draft report will be on the table for suggested tweaks and changes through October. The department will host four public input meetings in September. Mr. Van Scoyoc said he’d been told that one would be in Montauk, though Mr. D’Ambrosio said none has been scheduled.

Following the public comment period, which ends September 30, the Army Corps will incorporate the input from the public, official agencies and independent reviewers and finalize the plan in early 2017. The earliest projects might get going is 2018, he said.

“This is a draft and it is rough,” Mr. D’Ambrosio said.

In addition to the Montauk work, the FIMP draft also proposes a similar “feeder beach” in Sagaponack to offset chronic erosion, as well as biennial dredging of the Shinnecock Inlet, with the sand deposited on beaches to the west and in Tiana. The Army Corps will also continue work in West Hampton Dunes and shorten two of the Westhampton groins.

Mr. Van Scoyoc said that if the Army Corps ultimately agreed to the broader project, East Hampton Town could even consider asking to fund an expansion of the work to include the Ditch Plains Beach area, which was never considered as part of the FIMP analysis. Such extra work would have to be funded by taxpayers, he noted, but might be able to piggyback on the Army Corps project to save on staging costs.

“I do think there’s room to improve this project,” Mr. Van Scoyoc said.


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