Major East End Projects That Failed: The Hamptons Bypass, Riverhead Mountain, Lots More


Here is a collection of enormous projects that were proposed for the eastern end of Long Island that would have changed things but failed. For projects proposed after 1960, the response by Dan’s Papers is presented. It is the responsibility of newspapers to give editorial opinion. We did.

Around 1980, Governor Hugh Carey proposed that a limited access highway be built through the woods north of the Montauk Highway, linking the Sunrise Highway in Hampton Bays to the Montauk Highway between Amagansett and Montauk. It would have gone through Sebonac, Tuckahoe, Deerfield, Scuttlehole, Freetown, Northwest, Barnes Landing, Cranberry Hole Road and finally, down to merge onto the Montauk Highway in Napeague.

Dan’s Papers took a Jeep and camera out and backpacked through the proposed route to photograph the farms, dunes, fields, homes and woods that would be destroyed by the new superhighway. We also suggested that it be constructed to end at the driveway of the summer home of Governor Carey. The plan was abandoned in about 1988.

Three enormous nuclear power plants were proposed to be built on Long Island on the shore of Long Island Sound in 1972. The two proposed for Jamesport were abandoned before construction began, but the third, at Shoreham, broke ground in 1976 with a $400 million budget, continued to be built in spite of continual and sometimes disruptive protests and demonstrations by East Enders, and, after 10 years of construction, with costs exceeding $6 billion and more to come, it started producing power— but for just two days. After that, its builders agreed to follow Governor Mario Cuomo’s order that it be abandoned and torn down. It was abandoned, but never torn down. It still sits, on the shore at Shoreham, empty, with all the nuclear rods removed.

Dan’s Papers was ambivalent about this. It was clean energy. On the other hand, it could be dangerous. Was that exaggerated? In the end, we just reported on what happened during this extraordinary time, making tepid suggestions that it should be abandoned. We are not proud of our indecision about this.

In 1886, Matthias Baldwin, the President of the Pennsylvania Railroad, brought the Long Island Rail Road from Manhattan to Montauk. He had an amazing plan. Until that time, ships arriving with cargo from Europe would tie up and unload in the Port of New York. Ships traveled slowly, and, worse, often had to wait for high tide when they got to the Narrows (where the Verrazano Bridge is today) to keep from scraping the underwater bottom. Trains on Long Island could bring cargo into New York City at high speed. Baldwin had learned that Fort Pond Bay in Montauk was a deep-water port. Freighters could arrive there, offload cargo to railroad boxcars and be taken to Pennsylvania Station in Manhattan. There they would be transferred to other Pennsylvania Railroad trains and distributed all around the country. The Port of New York would be unnecessary. To get ready for this, Baldwin extended the tracks from Bridgehampton to Montauk and made a great terminal and pier there.

The Port of New York strongly opposed this plan and went to war with Baldwin. But then Baldwin, home in Pennsylvania on vacation, was thrown from a carriage pulled by a team of runaway horses and killed. His dream died with him.

In 2008, a large European based corporation and other investors bought property in Calverton, planning to build a theme park to rival Disney World. There would be racetracks, hotels, restaurants, an artificial lake with boats, convention centers, old European villages and an equestrian center. Its key feature would be a 4,000-foot indoor mountain that would be a year-round ski slope.

Dan’s Papers did not oppose this project. We thought it would be great fun. But we also thought it would fail. Well, spend away. The project died without breaking ground following the crash of 2008.

In 1885, Thomas Edison came out to Quogue, where he found the sand at the beach covered with a thin coating of black iron filings. Such an occurrence often happens in the Hamptons, often for a few weeks. Edison thought it was always there. As a result, he built a factory on the beach to mine it. This was around 1910. It was on concrete posts on the beach itself. A hole in the bottom of the floor allowed a scraper device to gather up the iron. It didn’t last long.

In 1968, the United States Coast Guard decided to abandon the Montauk Lighthouse and dynamite it to the ground. The light itself would remain, but atop a steel tower 1,000 feet further inland, to be operated by remote control from the Coast Guard station at Star Island, Montauk.

Dan’s Papers organized a demonstration at the Lighthouse, where 2,500 people stood in the Lighthouse parking lot at 9 p.m. holding candles, flashlights, lanterns and torches. The Coast Guard defended its plan for a year, a second demonstration was held that second year and after that the Coast Guard rescinded their order.

As air traffic to New York City increased dramatically in the 1960s and 1970s, a plan was put forth to create a fourth world-class airport at Westhampton. It would join Newark, JFK and LaGuardia as major ports of entry to the United States. It never happened.

Dan’s Papers thought this might be a good thing. Probably wrongheaded, but at the time—well, you had to be there.

In 2007, with the price of natural gas increasing, the demand for it increasing and production of it tapering off in the United States, a proposal was put forward by a joint venture of TransCanada Corporation and Shell Corporation to put a 1,000-foot-long floating gas liquefaction plant in Long Island Sound just north of Riverhead. Ships with liquid natural gas containers from abroad would tie up at the floating plant, their contents would be heated into gas and piped into underwater lines to Long Island and Connecticut.

Dan’s Papers responded by writing of an imaginary “ribbon cutting” aboard the plant at which an enormous 30-foot-long eel from Ecuador rams into it and sinks it. Governor Pataki didn’t like it either and refused his permission for its construction. It never was built, and a good thing, too. Demand declined, fracking produced much more gas in America and oil and gas prices plummeted.

In 1920, a New York City builder named Ivan Kratz got the contract to build the Lexington Avenue subway line in Manhattan. Ordering double the amount of material he needed and billing it all to the city, he found himself the object of a criminal investigation, and so, to get rid of the goods, took the overage out to the end of eastern Long Island and secretly built an underground 17-stop subway system in the Hamptons. He planned to open it later but things went bad for him in the city, and he never did. He also never told anyone he’d built it. In 2009, federal employees digging down to remove toxic material from a Superfund site in Sag Harbor discovered the roof of the Sag Harbor stop. The whole system was then re-discovered, restored and is in business today. Its newsletter is published in Dan’s Papers.

In the late 1980s, when more and more people began to come out to the Hamptons, traffic began to build up on the Montauk Highway between Bridgehampton and East Hampton on Friday and Sundays. The choke point was at the headwaters of Georgica Pond, where the highway became a single lane and there were no possibilities of taking backroads. A proposal at that time was made to build a pontoon bridge causeway across the center of Georgica Pond from Wainscott to Lily Pond Lane to bypass this bottleneck. This would have compromised the peace and quiet of the homes of the captains of industry, and so its announcement did not go over well.

Dan’s thought this plan up. It didn’t fly.

Five years after the Long Island Expressway was extended all the way out to Riverhead in 1972, a wealthy shopping center developer named Ronald Parr developed and opened an enormous Churchill Downs–style racetrack for trotters with a grandstand, clubhouse and restaurant that seated 25,000. It operated for less than one season. Then it closed and went out of business. Many people went there, including this reporter. Hmmm.

Dan’s Papers thought it a good thing to bring horserace gambling to the East End, as long as it wasn’t on the South Fork.

A peaceful residential area in the northwest corner of Southampton Township voted back in 1987 to incorporate itself as the Village of Pine Valley. It soon became apparent that the village backers had commercial interests in creating such a village, and the various trustees met every week to discuss the plan, each week getting louder, angrier and more divisive. When, after a hike in taxes, the discussions descended into throwing things and fistfights, a motion was put in front of the citizens to disband the village, and it was so voted. Today, Pine Valley no longer exists. It has returned to being an unincorporated part of Southampton Village. By the way, the Village of Pine Valley included the Riverhead jail, which happens, if you didn’t know, to be on the Southampton side of the border with Riverhead.

Dan’s Papers reported on this with a sense of wonder and amazement.

In the 1960s, Suffolk County authorized the Army Corps of Engineers to build a series of rock jetties every quarter-mile along the ocean beach from Quogue to the inlet at Moriches to stop erosion. There were to be 23 of them and they began to be built, one at a time, from east to west. With half of them in, the local residents began to protest against this project, saying it was wrong to use taxpayer money to help the rich waterfront homeowners. The County ordered the project halted with only half the jetties built.

As a result, sand backed up in the built jetties and none got past the last one, which was just west of Westhampton Beach. All along the beach for those last two miles, nearly 200 private beachfront homes fell into the sea beginning around 1990. The Army Corps of Engineers came back and tapered the last three jetties to help alleviate the problem, built up the beachfront all the way to the Moriches Inlet and cooperated in the emergence of the Village of West Hampton Dunes, which is there today. New homes occupy all that area. The Army Corps keeps watch over those homes now.

Dan’s Papers joined in protesting the taxpayers subsidizing the rich. We never anticipated the catastrophe that would follow. Nobody did.

In 1925, a Florida developer named Carl Fisher bought all of Montauk (except for the Lighthouse) and developed the whole peninsula as a summer resort he called Montauk Beach. Constructing in the Old English half-timber style, he built the Montauk Manor, a polo field, a sports car racetrack, a golf course, a beach club, a yacht club, and an indoor glass-enclosed tennis court complex. He dynamited a jetty entrance to Lake Montauk, relocated a fishing village, built Shepherd’s Neck and laid out the entire downtown with a grid of roads and sidewalks (painted pink.) He also built the seven-story-tall skyscraper in the center of town, which was supposed to be the first of many more. He went under with the Crash of ’29 and had to abandon the project, but much of what he built remains today.

The Montauk Parkway extends from Napeague all the way to Montauk Lighthouse—but there is a four-mile stretch where it does not exist, through downtown Montauk. It was built by Robert Moses in 1926, and Moses did have plans to have it go through town. Set aside and never to be built upon is a right-of-way that goes from west to east through South Shepherd’s Neck, across Fort Pond (it would be a causeway), across the soccer field, the baseball field, the tennis courts, then finally by the Montauk Library, to hook up once again with the Montauk Parkway.

Robert Moses, still active in the mid 1960s, proposed this, with the Long Island Expressway extended all the way to Orient on Long Island to get to it. Never happened.

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