Critics Say North Haven Village’s Erosion Law Unfair

North Haven
A photograph taken along the western shore of North Haven shows erosion. Stephen J. Kotz photo

By Stephen J. Kotz

A handful of residents who say North Haven Village’s proposed shoreline protection law would unfairly restrict their ability to undertake a joint project to protect their property from erosion turned out for a hearing on the measure on Tuesday.

While the new law does not strictly outlaw shore-armoring projects, it would require that homeowners make a case to the village board that their property was uniquely threatened. As part of the process, the village would hire environmental consultants to review the suitability of any proposal — whether it be construction of a rock revetment, wooden bulkhead, or vegetative plantings.

As it did a month ago, the board adjourned the hearing for another month to give it more time to digest some of the information presented to it. Although only a few minor changes have been made to the law since it was introduced last month, village attorney Anthony Tohill requested that it be subjected to an updated environmental review by the village’s consultant, Lee Weishar of the Woods Hole Group in Massachusetts.

Jeff Friedman, a resident of a street called On the Bluff, where there are a number of properties perched on bluffs high above the village’s western shore, said he had submitted a plan two years ago to armor the base of his bluff, but that Dr. Weishar had responded that it could harm his neighbors’ property, so his application was put on hold.

“Out of that, to my knowledge, came a suggestion from the village that a community or joint application or approach to this problem be generated,” he said.

He said a proposal submitted last week by First Coastal Corporation, a Westhampton environmental consulting firm, on behalf of those residents for a joint project was the result of that two-year effort. He said he was mystified as to why the village would now reject that approach and insist on individual projects.

“If the intent at the outset was simply to deal with it on a case-by-case basis, then why has there been a two-year interval while we were encouraged to put together a joint plan, which we have successfully done,” he asked.

Mayor Jeff Sander said the village would not normally deal with such joint applications and suggested that perhaps it was an idea that had come out of the village planning board. “I’m not intimately familiar with what the suggestions and recommendations are,” he said. The village’s intent, he said, was adopt a law that would provide the greatest flexibility for dealing with homeowners’ varying needs.

But another resident of On the Bluff, Ed Stern, insisted that Mayor Sander had attended a meeting at which the idea of a group proposal was broached. “I think there was guidance given, that you’d like to see this problem addressed and you’d like to see it addressed in a way one homeowner was not affecting another,” he said.

On Wednesday, Mr. Sander said Mr. Stern was mistaken and reiterated that the recommendation had come out of a planning board meeting. Mr. Friedman’s “application was the one that instigated this entire study,” he said. Dr. Weishar had concluded, he added, “that you can’t do this on a piecemeal basis; you have to come up with a comprehensive plan.”

Mr. Friedman later said the law was fundamentally unfair. “The value of the property we bought, that we pay taxes on, is embedded in the land we have,” he said. And it seems to me there’s some unfairness to say you need to be taking a hit on this and lose land … instead of trying to come up with a comprehensive solution that will be costly to all of us but that we think will be to everyone’s benefit.”

In between the squabbling, Aram Terchunian of First Coastal renewed his call for the village to adopt a law that is based on “generally accepted scientific and engineering principals” that he said, if applied consistently, could result in beneficial projects for homeowners and the shoreline.

He urged the village to consider a group project that would address replanting, beach nourishment and armoring the base of bluffs to protect them against the kinds of waves that attack the shoreline during major storms. He added that larger scale projects carry more bang for the buck, asserting that if a project’s length is doubled, it’s impact is quadrupled.

Mr. Terchunian added that based on aerial photographs, his firm had concluded that only about 16 percent of the village’s western shoreline is without some kind of armoring. “Any law that is passed that is addressing 16 percent of the shoreline versus 100 percent of the shoreline is not going to have the type of beneficial effects of something that addresses a larger shoreline does,’ he said.

Environmentalist Kevin McAllister, the president of Defend H20, spoke in favor of the village’s effort. “You are showing political courage by recognizing the implications of shore hardening,” he said.

Studies have shown the importance of the shoreline to the overall health of the Peconic ecosystem and as a recreational resource, he said.

He called on the village to take a broader look at the entire coastline in its management plan. “Dealing property by property is a losing prospect,” he said. Mr. McAllister said he was an “overall opponent of shore hardening and added it was “unfortunate that so much wall and rock has gotten into this system. This is death by a thousand cuts for lack of a better term.”