Hermine Proves Army Corps Naysayers Right in Montauk

Montauk Lighthouse. Photo credit: NehaAurangabadkar/iStock/Thinkstock
Montauk Lighthouse. Photo credit: NehaAurangabadkar/iStock/Thinkstock

The storm Hermine that missed Long Island last week resulted in a tide rising two feet and storm surf pounding our shores. On a scale of 1 to 10, it was about a 6. A storm. Not a big deal.

In Montauk, this middle-of-the-road storm attacked and destroyed a considerable part of the brand new $9 million half-mile long beach protection sandbag and sand dune wall that the wonderful Army Corps of Engineers put out on the ocean beachfront in downtown Montauk. It took six months to complete, and, with just a few, little final touches to do, was declared a pride of the town in April. Yes, there had been, during the construction, protests and demonstrations by some local residents, sometimes blocking tractors and backhoes working to complete this job.

I was one of those who argued that the Army Corps of Engineers knows what it is doing. Let the U.S. Army finish their job. It’s a gift for Montauk. Our downtown is in danger of flooding. During Sandy, it was only prevented from flooding by town fire department and building department bulldozers successfully stacking piles of sand where the sea had broken through.

Well, one little modest storm blew out 300 feet of sand, exposed the sandbags beneath and cut into and destroyed some of these bags. It’s a grand mess, mostly in front of the Royal Atlantic Resort and the Sloppy Tuna. The naysayers were right. The Town Board for accepting this was wrong. I was wrong. The Army Corps does not know what it is doing.

That Montauk downtown was saved from this little storm by the existing sandbags might be true. But, cut and battered, these sandbags have created a mess that will only grow in size as future high tides pound into it on either side.

There are two interesting projects nearby. One is a vast tonnage of sand, just sand alone, poured during the course of a year between Sagaponack and Mecox, a distance of six miles, to create a vast 200-yard beach, came through this storm without any problem. The other is that the entire eastern end of the Village of West Hampton Dunes consists of a 60-foot-tall wall of steel pounded into the ocean bottom parallel to the beach, upon which tons of sand has been poured and which survived this storm, and all storms, for the last 11 years.

I’d always thought of the Army Corps of Engineers as the soldiers who built pontoon bridges under fire during World War II, and in fact, that was them. How hard could buttressing Montauk be? They had done the steel wall. I figured they knew what to do. But they don’t.

In the run up to the building of the sandbag beachworks in Montauk, the plan was to put in the underground sandbags and on top of them create a 16-foot sand dune extending several hundred yards out into the ocean, such as was done in Sagaponack-Mecox (paid for by wealthy people who have oceanfront homes there by agreeing to pay for a town-obtained bond.)

But from the plan to the building of the Montauk beach project, some things went by the wayside. The 200-yard-wide beach would have to wait. The sandbags would hold at the back of the beach where the 200-yard beach would have been attached. They’d top the sandbags with three feet of sand. We’d have to make do with a 50-yard beach until that Fire Island to Montauk billion dollar project got underway….someday.

Also, the town and Suffolk County would have to be responsible for the replenishment of the three feet of sand on top of the sandbags, not the feds. The feds would agree to 120,000 cubic yards every four years. Other than that, we’d be on our own. Oh, that’s not what we agreed at the start? Well, now, take it or leave it.

We took it. What a mess.

In the Army Corps plan for the billion-dollar Fire Island to Montauk beach preservation project, guess what? Other than those 120,000 cubic yards of sand every four years, Montauk is not on it. This “temporary” project until the bigger project is completed is now considered “done.”

There’s a meeting about all this, with the Army Corps, at the Montauk Playhouse on September 28 at 6 p.m. Be there.

There’s only this one piece of good news, such as it is. Legally, the town and county accept responsibility for keeping the sand replenished atop the sandbags after the project is declared “completed” by the Army Corps and the papers are signed.

The project is completed, but guess what? Nothing has been signed. It is therefore still up to the Army Corps to fix this, and not us. Yet, I am also told the Army Corps wants to argue about this. Amazing!

Every day that goes by, the sea is taking more and more of what they built. I expect, as we should all expect, that the Army Corps of Engineers be out there with their workmen on Monday at the latest and fix the part torn out to at least prepare this catastrophe for the next storm. But then I expect on Tuesday they come in and tear the whole thing out. And on Wednesday they come in and add 1 million tons of sand as was done at Sagaponack-Mecox.

I think there is a law that says if you are not happy with something you buy, you can return it within 30 days, no questions asked. I think there is another law that says that if something in the manufacture breaks during the first year you can exchange it for something new within a year.

See you September 28 at 6 o’clock.

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