Next Stop Federal Court

Defend H2O seeks a restraining order

Though the weather may have something to say about it, today is the start date for the Army Corps of Engineers’ major construction project on the downtown Montauk beach. A group that sued in the spring to halt the project — an almost-16-foot-tall artificial dune of covered sandbags stretching for almost three-quarters of a mile along the shore from the Atlantic Terrace motel to Emery Street — will go to Eastern District Federal Court in the coming days to try to stop it, at least temporarily.

The Army Corps, which has hired a Bay Shore contractor for the $8.9 million project, says staging and preparations will begin on schedule. The beach parking area at Kirk Park is slated for use as a staging area, and for the stockpiling of sand. According to a timetable agreed upon with East Hampton Town, construction on the beach is not slated to begin until after the Columbus Day weekend.

The legal actions have had little or no effect to date. James D’Ambrosio, a spokesman at the Army Corps New York District, said Tuesday that “the Corps policy is, we don’t comment on ongoing litigation.”

“The project is going to start sometime after Oct. 1,” he said. “I can’t tell you the exact day.”

Defend H2O, an environmental organization founded by Kevin McAllister, the former Peconic Baykeeper, along with two members of the local Surfrider Foundation, Mike Bottini and Thomas Muse, and Rav Friedel, a Montauk resident, claim in their lawsuit against the town, county, state, and Army Corps that the reinforced dune will cause accelerated erosion and harm the beach, and that its construction conflicts with shoreline policies in the town’s Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan, which outlaws hard structures on the ocean beach.

Carl Irace, an East Hampton lawyer for the plaintiffs, said this week the suit also claims that the work entailed in construction of the reinforced sand dune  involves “29 violations of 44 policies” in the Local Waterfront Revitalization Program plan adopted by the town and approved by New York State.

Defend H2O will now ask the court to order the defendants to show cause as to why a temporary restraining order should not be issued. The court may issue that order, or could even just hand down the temporary restraining order stopping the project from going forward, said Mr. Irace. It could also decline to act at all.

The lawsuit, filed in May, is before Judge Arthur D. Spatt. He may make the decision regarding the injunction, said Mr. Irace, or it could be put before another judge.

The dune, with a core of 14,560 geotextile bags filled with sand to be trucked in from an upland quarry, will be 105 feet wide. Pedestrian walkways will have to be installed on pilings to enable people to get over the dune, and private property owners along the shore will each have their own access paths. A vehicle access is to be built at South Edison Street.

According to an agreement with the Army Corps, East Hampton Town will be responsible for ongoing annual maintenance after the dune is built, including keeping the sandbags covered with three feet of sand. The county has agreed to share that cost, although as of several weeks ago no formal agreement had been signed.

County Legislator Al Krupski, an opponent of that agreement and of the Army Corps project itself, had drawn up a resolution calling for the county to withdraw its support, but as of this week he abandoned that legislation. Mr. Krupski could not be reached for comment by press time.