More than a dozen large pre-cast concrete rings, commonly used for septic systems, were placed in a row on the downtown Montauk public beach last week in front of the Royal Atlantic and Ocean Beach motels just after Hurricane Sandy had come and gone, raising questions about whether town law is being followed as East Hampton Town property owners seek to address erosion on pummeled shores.
Town Councilwoman Sylvia Overby said this week that Patrick Gunn, the head of the town Public Safety Division, had reported that four verbal permits had been issued by Tom Preiato, the senior building inspector, for emergency erosion-control work on town beaches, with written permits to be obtained as soon as possible.
The permits authorized the addition of sand only, and were given to Keith Grimes, a contractor, for work on Soundview Drive in Montauk and to Harold McMahon for Shore Road, Amagansett, as well as to the Royal Atlantic and Ocean Beach motels. The concrete rings in front of the motels were subsequently buried in sand. New stone armoring appeared this week in front of a Soundview Drive property.
Steve Kalimnios, an owner of the Royal Atlantic, did not return a call for comment yesterday. But, in response to a discussion of the concrete rings by the Montauk Citizens Advisory Committee on Monday, Carl Darenberg, a member, offered information he had received from Butch Payne, the contractor.
Mr. Darenberg described the rings as a sort of “temporary bulkhead” to prevent ongoing damage while repairs are made to the building footings, which have been undermined. They are to be removed when that job is completed, Mr. Darenberg said.
East Hampton’s coastal laws are contained in the town code, particularly in a Coastal Erosion Hazard Act, as well as in the town’s Local Waterfront Revitalization Program. Both spell out what can and cannot be done on certain shorelines, and include details about emergency procedures. On the ocean beach, for instance, “the construction, placement, or installation of new erosion control structures is prohibited.”
The state Department of Environmental Conservation also apparently issued a permit for the addition of “beach-compatible” sand to the downtown Montauk beach area. Jeremy Samuelson, the executive director of Concerned Citizens of Montauk, said the state permit had been modified to allow the concrete rings to remain in place on a temporary basis, with no time period specified.
On Saturday, Mr. Samuelson routed an inquiry about the rings to members of the town board, including Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson, as well as to the town attorney and officials in the Building, Public Safety, Planning, and Natural Resources Departments.
John Jilnicki, the attorney, said in an e-mail on Tuesday that “code enforcement is investigating and appropriate action will be taken upon completion of the investigation if warranted.” Mr. Gunn confirmed that a case was opened on Monday, after his receipt of Mr. Samuelson’s e-mail on Saturday.
“I hope that the beaches are put back together appropriately,” Diane McNally, the clerk of the East Hampton Town Trustees, said at a meeting of the East Hampton Town Board last Thursday. “We don’t want to see a lot of rocks and hard structures,” she said, referring to the possibility of a “knee-jerk reaction.” She said the trustees want to see “that we follow the code, and our appropriate processes.”
“Otherwise, what we’re going to have is a wall of private properties, with what — a boardwalk?” Ms. McNally said Monday.
The adopted coastal laws and policies, Ms. McNally said earlier this week, were put in place “when everybody had calm heads,” rather than in the aftermath of a storm. The crafting and adoption of the town’s L.W.R.P. and resulting laws took over a decade and included extensive research and public participation.
The town laws are a customized version of state policies which would be in effect here had state officials not approved the provisions adopted by the town. They reflect a state-endorsed policy of retreat from eroding shorelines, rather than a constant battle against natural processes.
Local law allows the town building inspector to issue emergency permits for “activities . . . which are immediately necessary to protect the public health, safety, or welfare, or to protect publicly or privately owned buildings and structures from major structural damage.”
Those actions, however, are limited on the coastline to moving a building landward and repairing the structure, depositing sand fill seaward of a building, temporarily installing a sandbag or geotextile tube system, or, in certain coastal zones, repairing a legally pre-existing “coastal erosion structure” such as a bulkhead.
In most cases, including severe erosion situations, shoring up shorelines and coastal structures requires a natural resources permit from the East Hampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals.
An emergency provision was employed after a storm in 2010 when a Soundview Drive property owner in Montauk, alarmed by erosion, had up to five tons of boulders dropped in front of the property, in an area where, according to the town code, the installation of new hard erosion-control structures was to be reviewed by the Z.B.A.
Supervisor Wilkinson said at the time that he had given the go-ahead, without review, and Mr. Preiato, the building inspector, said he had relied on the “unsafe buildings” emergency provision of the code to issue a permit. During a town board discussion afterward, Julia Prince, then a councilwoman, suggested that a review of the laws on erosion-control structures might be warranted. The board did not pursue the matter.
“They’re issuing permits for one thing, and then allowing another thing with a wink and a nod,” Mr. Samuelson said on Monday. “Nobody’s unsympathetic to a property owner whose property is damaged by something like this,” he said. But he argued that by turning a blind eye, “we’re leaving it to a private property owner to work out a deal with his contractor about what they’re going to put on a public beach, with nobody even asking what the impact is on anyone around them, or even if this is a public danger.”
In his Nov. 3 e-mail drawing officials’ attention to the matter, Mr. Samuelson wrote that “decisions and actions taken to protect one oceanfront property have real and dramatic effects on adjoining and surrounding properties and infrastructure, both public and private.”
Earlier this week, he said, “If emergency measures are warranted because we’re living in precarious times, then the permits that are issued should reflect the work that’s going to take place,” so that the town, and the public, is aware of what’s been installed and can make sure that it is safe.
Ms. McNally, the Town Trustees’ clerk, said that since Hurricane Sandy only a few people had approached the trustees to inquire about rebuilding damaged bulkheads or docks. Inquiries at the Building Department have been few, Mr. Gunn and Mr. Preiato, the senior building inspector, reported yesterday.