Since the third of the four nor’easters that slammed into the East End this winter, the ocean beach in downtown Montauk has been denuded of sand. It’s a shocking thing to see. The beach is Montauk’s pride and joy. Nothing of the beach is left for all three quarters of a mile of its length.
What you do see is the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers sandbag project, installed three years ago to keep downtown Montauk from flooding during storms. It is a sandbag wall, with motels atop and just behind it. In front of it is the hard earth that used to underpin the sand. The sand put there by the Army Corps covered it, so Montauk would look like Montauk. This was part of the $9 million the feds spent for this project.
Memorial Day is coming in 40 days and visitors will be here for the summer. Believe it or not, the beach will be back in time for that, perhaps not with the same quantity of sand that the Army Corps delivered two years ago, but with enough to provide a sparkling beach. The sand will be trucked out here by contract with Patrick Bistrian Jr. Inc. The cost, even for that, however, is estimated to be a staggering $800,000 to $1,000,000. And it will all be paid for by the Town of East Hampton from its reserve surplus account. It will solve the problem. At least for now.
Peter Van Scoyoc, the East Hampton Town Supervisor, knows that he does not have a second million dollars to spend for this if a storm washes the beach out again. But he has hit the ground running. He intends to create a viable ongoing solution for this. And he wants to get it put in place as soon as possible. There is no telling when the next storm will come.
The backstory of this was how the town was misinformed by the Army Corps. In 2012, floodwaters from Sandy had breached the dunes and would have flooded downtown Montauk if town bulldozers had not been quickly brought in to plug where it was happening.
Then the Army Corps came and made what I believe were promises they couldn’t keep. They said their project would work. Their engineers said that what they installed, with its sand covering, might need to be replenished with sand every few years. They’d pay for it when that happened during the first year, since the project was not yet considered complete, but after that it would be the Town’s responsibility. The Town agreed to set aside $150,000 every year to handle sand loss. But this has turned out to be just a drop in the bucket of what is needed.
Before the project was completed, the seas twice washed out $700,000 worth of sand, and the federal government paid to have it put back. With that, the Town had to agree to what they agreed to. We would take it from here. Now in the first year, the repair could be a million dollars.
“We have appealed to both the state and the feds for assistance if the sand washes out again,” Supervisor Van Scoyac told me. “Meanwhile, all this, according to the Army Corps, was supposed to be temporary, just until the huge FIMP [Fire Island to Montauk Point] dune project from Fire Island to the Lighthouse is in place. FIMP has been approved by Congress and its funding approved, too. FIMP’s first activity is to stabilize the beach with sand wherever it gets washed out. If we wash out, we’re made whole. They pay for it.
“But if they can’t or won’t, and if we don’t get state help, I think we might decide to create a special beach erosion district for Montauk. It would be modeled after the one at Sagaponack, which has worked out very well for many years. The district there consists of those with beachfront homes. They pay an additional cost added on to their regular local real estate taxes to pay for the sand to be pumped ashore from out in the ocean to protect their homes.
“I do hope such a district does not have to come to that in Montauk,” he continued. “We are working furiously to get this solved. We’ll see how this unfolds. Hopefully before the next storm comes.”