When people think of the East End, one of the first things that come to mind are the beaches. We are home to some of the most beautiful beaches on earth—just ask Dr. Beach—and they are an integral part of life in the Hamptons. Over time, however, erosion has the ability to destroy everything that we love so much about these slices of heaven.
Beachfront homeowners in Bridgehampton and Sagaponack have seriously considered this threat, and members of these communities’ Erosion Control Districts (ECDs) are currently spearheading an effort to restore their sections of the beaches using a sand dredging method. A public informational session at the Southampton Town Hall on Friday, August 10 at 4 p.m., and a formal town public hearing on Friday, August 17 at 4 p.m., are the next steps toward their goal of combatting erosion on the beaches in their districts. The Town of Southampton needs to approve the tax increase to fund the project for it to go forward.
Starting from the beginning: homeowners, in conjunction with the Town, formed the Bridgehampton and Sagaponack ECDs in the summer of 2010 because of the significant erosion that has occurred to the beaches over time. The Bridgehampton ECD encompasses 15,480 lineal feet of beach frontage from the Town-owned Flying Point Beach parking lot to Sagg Pond, and represents 73 homeowners. Similarly, the Sagaponack ECD encompasses 13,984 lineal feet of beach frontage from Sagg Pond to the East Hampton town line, and represents 52 homeowners.
Both of these ECDs have been negatively impacted by erosion caused by the East Hampton Groins and Georgica Pond. “There has been a lot of erosion during the last 20-30 years,” said Jeff Lignelli of the Bridgehampton ECD. “We can either be reactive and wait for a disaster and then figure out what to do, or we can be proactive.” To determine whether a beach erosion project was necessary, they hired national experts led by Dr. Tim Kana of Coastal Science & Engineering (CSE) to do a nine-month study. CSE teamed up with First Coastal, an environmental and marine construction firm based in Westhampton Beach.
“The result of that analysis was that Sagaponack beach is losing about 55,000 cubic yards per year, and Bridgehampton is losing about 50,000 cubic yards per year,” stated Aram Terchunian of First Coastal. “Just to give you a point of reference, 65,000 cubic yards is about 3,200 dump truck loads.” Combined, more than 6,000 dump truck loads of sand are lost per year. The erosion rate is estimated to be around three cubic yards per lineal foot of shoreline per year.
Along with these organizations, the ECDs have been working together to develop a collective beach nourishment plan. Beach restoration or beach nourishment is an effective process in which they find a compatible source of sand in the ocean floor, and then pump that sand up with a dredge to spread it on the beach. According to Terchunian, this technique is commonly used throughout the country, as some of the most notable beaches in America are rebuilt beaches.
Most recently in our area, Fire Island successfully used this technique in 2009. “They look and feel and act exactly like a natural beach because we’re mimicking nature,” Terchunian explained. This is all done based on an understanding of how much sand is being lost, and where it is being lost. Lignelli said that this would take care of the next 20 years of erosion.
In planning for this process, one of the biggest considerations is how to fund it. The organizers have proposed an increase in taxes for the people who own the beaches. “Everyone essentially pays for the amount of footage of the beach that they have,” Lignelli noted. Therefore, “the individual homeowners are paying 85-90% of the project and the Town pays for 10% of the project” because that is how much of the beach that these parties own.
In these ECDs, the Town of Southampton owns beaches such as Sagg Main, Mecox Beach and Flying Point Beach, among others. This means that a taxpayer who owns a home worth $500,000 in Southampton Town will pay, according to the Town Supervisor’s office, $2.72 per year for 10 years.”
Terchunian said that compared to similar erosion control projects, this is a common way to afford it. The estimated combined cost of the endeavor, which will widen the beach 50-60 feet seaward and strengthen the dunes, is $22-25 million.
Coordinators met with the Army Corps of Engineers and Congressman Bishop, and learned that federal funding will not be available for these ECDs because of the U.S. budget deficit. Thus, the homeowners hope to finance the project over a 10-year bond maturity. The President of the Fire Island Association was quoted in a July 20, 2012 Presentation of Beach Nourishment Project to the Southampton Town Board as stating, “One of the things we have to be aware of is we can’t wait for the government to take care of it. If we want something done, we have to do it ourselves.”
It is important to address erosion problems before they get any worse and before a natural disaster does even more damage. Lignelli cited the Town’s repair of the dunes and parking lot at Mecox Beach this past winter, costing them $100,000. According to the presentation, “The dune was one storm away from the ocean washing over into the parking lot.” This will be a recurring problem until a large-scale nourishment project like this one is completed.
Moreover, completing this beach nourishment project would make them “engineered beaches” under FEMA guidelines. This is important because if a federally declared emergency storm or disaster occurs, they are eligible for FEMA reimbursement. There have been four such instances in the past six years, but the area can only receive funding if it is under an ECD.
At the upcoming meetings, the details relating to the project will be discussed, as well as any questions people have. If everything stays on track, work is slated to begin January 2013 and run until April 2013.
“One of the great things about the Hamptons is that it has some of the best beaches in the world, and this will be a way to preserve and enhance the Hamptons having the best beaches in the world,” Lignelli stated. “Everyone in the town will benefit having wider and stronger beaches in the long run.”