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There May Be Swimming Again at Montauk's South Lake

Wed, 05/15/2024 - 21:45
Permeable pavers, at right, and a dry stream bed are to help alleviate stormwater runoff at South Lake Beach.
Mellissa Winslow

A former public bathing beach at the end of South Lake Drive in Montauk that has been closed for nearly 20 years was the one subject the East Hampton Town Board mulled on Tuesday when it held its first work session in the hamlet since before the pandemic. 

The board heard about two projects that could help to get the beach open again for bathing. 

Mellissa Winslow, a principal environmental analyst in the town’s Natural Resources Department, gave an update on the first, known as the South Lake park restoration. The problems at the site were manifold. The idea was to improve stormwater and wastewater management at the location, reconfigure the parking area, replace invasive plant species with natives, and enhance pedestrian circulation and use. 

“The beach was closed in 2005 and has remained closed since that time due to water quality concerns,” said Ms. Winslow. “The water quality committee prioritized this out of our water quality improvement plan to move this project forward. We think this was a great use of our [community preservation fund] water quality funding on this area that has known impairments.” 

According to the Surfrider Foundation’s Blue Water Task Force, South Beach tested high for enterococcus bacteria three times last summer, out of 12 samples taken. 

South Lake Drive is a short spur that runs north from Montauk Highway, terminating in a large impervious parking lot only steps from Lake Montauk, with no stormwater control mechanisms in place. Given the calm lake waters, the area was once a popular swimming location for families with young children. P.W. Grosser, an environmental engineering company, devised a plan to regrade the lot so that stormwater was diverted into a manufactured dry stream bed, a rock-lined swale designed to capture and filter the runoff before it enters the lake, while reducing erosion. Two parking spots overlooking the beach will now be made of pervious pavers, so any water that does reach them will be filtered through the ground before leaching into the lake. 

In addition, just off the parking lot, less than 100 feet to the water’s edge, was a bathroom that captured waste in antiquated cesspools. Councilman David Lys said the subsurface waters, tainted with untreated sanitary waste, traveled into the lake in less than a year. On April 1, ground was broken on the installation of a new I/A system for the bathroom; it is now complete. A second composting toilet that was not used has been removed from the site. In addition, Ms. Winslow said owners of an adjacent residence had upgraded their septic system using town incentives, as did the Crow’s Nest restaurant and the Pharoah Beach Cottages, two commercial properties that also overlook Lake Montauk’s south shore. 

“We’re taking a holistic approach to improving water quality,” she said. 

“It’s a win for Montauk and for the environment,” said Councilman Lys. “It’s a large project for a very quiet place.” He noted that most of the town facilities around Lake Montauk had been upgraded to I/A systems, highlighting the active role the town has taken to improve water quality at the lake. 

The parking lot will be reconfigured and delineated with 13 spots, including one handicapped space. Two small bridges cross the dry stream bed, and attach to a pedestrian walkway designed to access the comfort station and improve circulation on the site. As of Monday, invasive vegetation had been removed and replaced with native plants, adding 6,000 square feet of green. “It’s coming together and looking nice,” said Ms. Winslow. 

All told, she said there had been a 20percent infrastructure reduction on the parcel, with 2,500 square feet of pervious infrastructure introduced. 

“When do you think we’ll be ready for the ribbon cutting?” asked Town Supervisor Kathee Burke-Gonzalez. 

“They’re ahead of schedule. Hopefully by the end of June,” said Ms. Winslow. 

Samantha Klein, a senior environmental analyst in the town’s Natural Resources Department, described a complementary living shoreline project for the south shore of the lake. An evaluation committee recommended that D&B Engineers and Architects design the shoreline, which might include submerged plantings and an oyster or mussel reef. The project was born out of the town’s coastal assessment resilience plan. 

It’s hoped the living shoreline could reduce erosion, mitigate flooding, and help improve habitat and water quality in the lake. If the board agreed to hire D&B, it would be required to bring the project to 60 percent completion. 

The town received eight proposals for the work, which allowed it to “be picky” according to Ms. Klein. D&B’s experience with living shorelines and the fact that First Coastal, which did work on the Fire Island to Montauk Point project, was its subcontractor, helped D&B’s application. 

She said the shoreline project “partners well” with the South Beach Renovation project described by Ms. Winslow. “We’re really looking at stabilizing the shoreline through this project as well as water quality efforts happening more landward. We’re hoping that the projects really complement each other.” 

The board was supportive of Ms. Klein’s recommendation, and Supervisor Burke-Gonzalez said it would vote to hire D&B at today’s meeting. 



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