Army Corps Leaves Out Montauk Beach

Full restoration had been promised, town says
Local officials expected the sandbags, which are covered with three feet of sand, would be removed and the beach fully restored.

A long-awaited description of projects the Army Corps of Engineers proposes to undertake between Fire Island and Montauk Point, the so-called Fire Island to Montauk Point Reformulation Plan, or FIMP, does not include substantial restoration of the downtown Montauk beach, where the Corps recently completed a 3,100-foot-long sandbag wall.

Local officials had approved the sandbag project as a supposed stopgap to protect shorefront buildings until the Army Corps of Engineers proceeded with long-term efforts. Officials expected the Corps to call for full reconstruction of the Montauk beach by adding enough sand to make it, and keep it, 100 feet wide. But an executive summary of the draft, the release of which had been promised since last year and eagerly anticipated, excludes Montauk from the numerous south shore beaches where full restoration is planned.

Instead, it calls for adding 120,000 cubic yards of sand in front of the wall approximately every four years to offset erosion. Local officials expected the sandbags, which are covered with three feet of sand, would be removed and the beach fully restored.

The full draft plan is slated for release in mid-July, according to a press release last week from Representative Lee Zeldin, with an environmental review and comment period, including several public hearings, in August.

Residents opposed to the construction of the Montauk beach wall, a number of whom protested in front of bulldozers last fall, were told that the town board shared their vision of the ultimate goal. Officials had said the wall was needed to protect downtown buildings from storm surge until the Corps got to its larger projects. They apparently thought that because the wall was to be temporary it did not violate longstanding regulations about what could be constructed along the dunes. The wall was built at federal expense but the town and county will share the cost of keeping it covered with sand as well as other maintenance.

“It’s not what I think we were assured we would get,” East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell said Tuesday. Besides the comprehensive beach nourishment project in downtown Montauk, town representatives had been lobbying for beach restoration at Ditch Plain. It is not included in the draft.

“We’re going to need our congress man’s help reminding the Corps what I thought they proposed to the community, what we thought — which is what we have now, and a major beach replenishment up to 100 feet wide,” Mr. Cantwell said. “We will continue to press,” he said, for reconstruction of Montauk’s downtown beach as well as the beach at Ditch Plain.

Federal funding for the Army Corps Fire Island to Montauk project, originally authorized at $600 million, has risen to $1.16 billion. The plan has been underway, with rounds of studies and revisions, since the 1950s. A re-evaluation process was undertaken after Hurricane Sandy hit Long Island in 2012, which prompted federal funds to be made available for projects such as the Montauk wall.

The complete Army Corps plan is to include what the agency terms “coastal storm risk management” projects along 83 miles along the Atlantic Ocean and 200 miles of bayfront and inlets. It also includes what are called retrofits, relocation, and acquisition of buildings within the floodplain, raising roadways, and dredging of the Fire Island, Moriches, and Shinnecock Inlets. Sand would also be added to the beach at Potato Road in Wainscott, contingent on implementation of a pond-opening plan for Georgica Pond, which traditionally has been done by the East Hampton Town Trustees. The final report is to be submitted to the chief of the Army Corps of Engineers for authorization at the end of the year.

In the press release, Mr. Zeldin said he had been “fighting hard to secure the many victories” for his congressional district under the Army Corps plan, and thanked the Corps for its “responsiveness and attention to detail in ensuring that the priorities of my constituents received the highest consideration.”