Town Board Asks for Army Corps Analysis

Request adds geotubes, ignores Ditch Plain

    East Hampton Town will ask the Army Corps of Engineers, which is analyzing the options for a federally funded beach restoration project in Montauk,  to examine the use of sand-filled geotextile tubes to stabilize the beach in addition to the options that the Corps had presented last month, such as using sand alone or installing a buried seawall. A split, 4-to-1, vote on a resolution introduced by Councilwoman Theresa Quigley took place at the tail end of a lengthy meeting last Thursday night.

    The resolution ignores a request from the Montauk Citizens Advisory Committee that the town ask the Corps to consider including the Ditch Plain beach in the project, which would be paid for with federal funding. Some board members had previously suggested that the town borrow money for sand restoration at Ditch, and Councilman Dominick Stanzione has asked that the project be included in a draft capital budget being prepared by the town budget officer, Len Bernard.

    The resolution also ignores a request by Councilwoman Sylvia Overby and Councilman Peter Van Scoyoc that shoreline retreat — by acquiring the hotels on the threatened stretch of downtown beach through purchase or eminent domain — also be seriously considered.

    Mr. Van Scoyoc cast the no vote against the resolution, objecting “to the late hour” and what he said was dealing with “probably the most important topic that we will address in our tenure” in a “cavalier” manner. He noted that the board had, at a work session two days earlier, discussed sending a letter to the Corps but could not agree on doing so.

    “I had a change of heart and spoke to Bill about it,” Ms. Quigley said, referring to Supervisor Bill Wilkinson. “I thank you,” Councilman Dominick Stanzione told Mr. Wilkinson. “Excellent option.”

    Councilwoman Overby voted for the resolution, but said she was upset that it did not include a request that work at Ditch Plain be considered. She noted that the resolution “wasn’t in the packet for the public to see” and criticized what she called the “continuing negotiation behind closed doors that’s going on.”

    “This is not a new topic,” Ms. Quigley replied. “But if it had been in the packet there might have been public comment on it,” Ms. Overby said. “There has been plenty of public comment on it,” Ms. Quigley responded.

    Mr. Van Scoyoc said he would like to have the Army Corps complete its analysis of all the options it had presented, excluding the installation of groins, but including the possibility of rebuilding the beach, with a dune built where some hotels are now located.

    “The Corps told us relocation was not a viable option,” Supervisor Wilkinson said. “Actually, I didn’t hear that,” Mr. Van Scoyoc said. They were referring to a  Sept. 26 briefing by Steve Couch of the Corps, who had said that, though the initial cost of acquiring and relocating the hotels, which would be covered by federal funds, would be high, later beach maintenance costs would be lower, offsetting the investment.

    That strategy, Mr. Couch told the board, is being used on Fire Island and is being considered by Brookhaven Town. However, he said, he was unsure if such a project would meet the cost-benefit ratio analysis applied by the Corps.

    “Relocation should absolutely not be focused on,” Ms. Quigley said last week. “It’s a completely unviable option.”

    “So we can’t even make the assessment based on what the actual cost would be?” questioned Mr. Van Scoyoc. “Relocation is the least likely option,” Ms. Overby said, and “not palatable . . . at least to me.”

    “But,” she said, “if we are going to be given the opportunity to get some data” that might be valuable to the town in making future decisions, she said, the town should have the Army Corps analyze that option.

    “Data is critical,” Ms. Quigley agreed. But, she said, that particular information “is completely irrelevant.”

    Mr. Van Scoyoc disagreed, saying it would “inform us all about whether that is a viable option.” He moved to have the request to the Corps include analysis of the land-purchase option. Ms. Overby seconded the motion, but the other three board members voted it down.

    At the work session two days earlier, the board had argued over how to respond to the calls from the Montauk community, which were presented on Oct. 8 and repeated to the board by a resident, Christopher Poli, last week. Ms. Quigley had objected vehemently to writing to the Army Corps at all.

    “At this point we are not a unanimous board,” Ms. Overby had said at that meeting. “We are a board where one member submitted something that the rest of the board didn’t see,” she said of Mr. Wilkinson’s seawall plan. “Thank God he did,” Ms. Quigley said. They were referring to a plan Mr. Wilkinson had prepared by First Coastal, an engineering firm, and submitted to the Army Corps in January, without consulting or informing the board.

    “It’s called democracy,” Mr. Van Scoyoc said, chiding Mr. Wilkinson about his actions. “No, it’s called boring,” Mr. Wilkinson said. “We had an opportunity to get something accomplished in this town; we seized the damn ring,” he said. “I completed what I could deliver to this town. I completed my delivery.”

    “I implore the town board to show leadership,” Mr. Poli had said. “If you show leadership, consensus, you can guide the process, rather than having the Army Corps come to you. In Westhampton Beach, the Army Corps did more harm than good; in Culloden, the Army Corps did more harm than good,” he warned.

    Ms. Overby and Mr. Van Scoyoc continued their criticism during telephone interviews this week of the overall procedure as the board grappled with the Montauk project. “I think the process has been tainted from day one,” Ms. Overby said. “Now everything is under suspicion, as far as I’m concerned.” She added that the board majority’s refusal to ask the Army Corps to consider extending its project to the Ditch Plain beach,  “actually says to the people of Ditch Plain that you don’t matter.”

    The potential for the purchase of shorefront real estate, so as to move buildings out of harm’s way, “was one of the options they brought to us,” Mr. Van Scoyoc reiterated. “And I know that wasn’t in Bill’s plan,” he said. But, since the Army Corps “is doing a cost-benefit analysis. Why shouldn’t we have that information?”

    “First they tried to get me to agree with whatever the Army Corps would propose,” the councilman said. “Now,” he said, “they’re trying to close down the options. Maybe because some of the options aren’t ones they like.” Mr. Van Scoyoc said he supported having the Corps look into the use of geotextile tubes, as the resolution requests, but cast a no vote “against the way the process happened.” When Ms. Quigley presented the resolution for a vote last Thursday, he said, “It wasn’t even typed up in town format. . . . It was like pulled out of her purse or something — with no discussion whatsoever.”