Beaches in Southampton Town, at least some beaches, are about to get bigger. Tons bigger. Literally. Coastal erosion has long wreaked havoc on our local shoreline, and debates as to how to best remedy the situation—and pay for it—have been waged for almost as long. Superstorm Sandy has prompted an answer.
A Southampton Town beach restoration project that had been put off earlier this fall was approved two weeks ago, following the damage caused by Sandy. The roughly $25 million project will pump more than 2.5 million tons of sand onto the beaches between Flying Point Beach in Water Mill and Townline Road in Sagaponack.
The Town of Southampton had put the previous proposal aside to give itself time to find tax relief for the 125 beachfront properties that were originally going to pay the full cost of the project. The town was also working with Assemblyman Fred Thiele to propose a bill in the state legislature that would provide matching funds. However, Hurricane Sandy’s destruction prompted the beachfront homeowners to request faster action on the issue. “There was a sense of urgency here to get this done sooner rather than later,” said Jennifer Garvey, a legislative aide for the town and the project manager for the issue.
As a result, the town and project leaders are proposing a unique way to go about the project, securing funding before securing the permits. The homeowners at the forefront of the proposal, who will already be paying $22 million of the project, have also agreed to pay for half of the town’s $3 million portion of the project. According to reports, the town’s remaining $1.5 million share will come from an already existing, reserved park district fund, comprised of money set aside when new subdivisions are formed, and thus the new arrangement would not have any impact on town taxpayers outside of the erosion control districts.
The plan must go to a referendum on February 2, 2013, in which only the residents of the special taxing districts will be allowed to vote. If this plan is approved, the town will borrow the money and it willl then be paid back over the next 10 years via a special tax only on the homeowners along the included beaches, which will range from a few thousand dollars to more than $200,000 per house per year depending on waterfront size in Bridgehampton, and on both waterfront size and property value in Sagaponack. According to Garvey, they have worked with Assemblyman Thiele to put a bill through the state legislature to allow the town to provide tax relief retroactively.
Sand dredging, in which compatible sand from the ocean floor is pumped onto the beach, is especially important here. Not only would the wider restored beaches enhance the area’s natural beauty and offer a place to relax in the summer, but they would also provide more protection to nearby houses. If and when other natural disasters hit the East End, this restoration could prove vital. In the wake of Sandy’s damage, Bridgehampton has even raised the cost of their project slightly to put additional sand on their beaches.
“Town approval is only one step in several steps to get this project all the way through,” Garvey noted. While permits would still be needed if the referendum passes (in addition to approval by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers), the project’s leaders can start working on the details and timing. It could be initiated as early as next summer.
For more information on beach restoration in the Hamptons, visit Danshamptons.com.