Former Mayor Balks at Bulkhead Proposal for West Water Street


A former Sag Harbor Village mayor lambasted plans proposed by the Sag Harbor Village Board of Trustees to install a bulkhead along a portion of beachfront on West Water Street during a Harbor Committee meeting this week, and questioned why that body wasn’t more concerned with protecting valuable foreshore just outside the village’s downtown.

On Monday, August 8, Pierce Hance approached the committee questioning the trustees’ plans to stabilize the West Water Street embankment, directly across from the stalled 21 West Water Street condominium project.

For over two years now, the village board has been monitoring erosion at this particular section of beachfront, which after snow and rain storms in 2009, 2010 and 2011 left sections of the embankment deteriorated to the roadway, posing a possible threat to not only the road, but the septic, water and electric lines that line below the asphalt.

Despite temporary fixes by the village’s Department of Public Works, which dumped sand and rocks on the beachfront in an effort to sure-up the shoreline in the short-term, dating back to early 2010 trustees began discussing finding a long term solution to the problem. In June village environmental planning consultant Rich Warren announced formal plans to bulkhead the beach with a 568-foot vinyl bulkhead, as well as five four-by-four platforms with stairs to allow access to the beach.

The proposal still is awaiting New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) approval, as well as approval from the Harbor Committee, which will hold a formal hearing on the proposal at its September 12 meeting.

Hance said that erosion in that area has been a problem for over a decade and a problem that was ignored for years.

“The problem is neglect and the solution is not putting in a bulkhead,” said Hance. “The solution is remediating that foreshore.”

Hance said if the village does bulkhead the area, before long, no beach will be left, and along with committee member Dr. Tom Halton, noted the village’s Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan is not in favor of bulkhead projects.

Harbor Committee chairman Bruce Tait disagreed, arguing the LWRP advocates for not using shoreline hardening when there are other choices to be considered.

“One fact we can agree upon is there is a danger of losing that road if something isn’t done,” said Tait.

Tait said 15 years ago, the village considered installing coconut coir logs, durable biodegradable erosion prevention logs, and it may be advisable to at least explore that as another solution. However, he added, it may be the beachfront has eroded to a point where that is no longer viable and the only way to save the roadway is through a bulkhead.

Hance disagreed, calling bulkheading that area tantamount to creating “a dead waterfront.”

Warren said the kind of remediation Hance was suggesting would require the village to fill out into the water or cut back into the roadway, as the embankment is too steep in the center to support vegetation.

“Most of that bank is vertical and there are big pieces coming off,” he said, adding the bulkhead was actually an idea supported by the NYSDEC.

“If you are feeling like you want to do something different, you should schedule a work session with the board of trustees,” he advised the committee.

One of the Harbor Committee’s own members, John Christopher, was sent back to the drawing board on Monday night after a wetlands permit he sought to add a one story addition to his 92 Redwood Road home was tabled after the board asked that a better plan to buffer wetlands be drafted by his consultant.

Christopher sat silent during the hearing after recusing himself from the discussion while his consultant Matt Ivans of Suffolk Environmental Consulting laid out Christopher’s problem.

Christopher’s addition is actually on the landward side of his residence, over 80-feet from the wetlands, and he and his wife have maintained what Ivans described as a thriving and dense natural buffer without regulation.

Ivans said his client hoped to be exempt from the buffer requirement given that he has maintained so much natural vegetation.

Dr. Tom Halton agreed, questioning why projects landward from existing structures should even be considered for a wetlands permit by the committee, and therefore subject to providing a natural buffer to wetlands areas.

“What we are trying to do by wetlands law is ensure we have buffers in place throughout the area,” explained Tait. “The only way we can do that is enforce the law as a permit comes in. But we have an ability to look at these and make judgments as we see fit and that is the purpose of having this board look at these permits; otherwise it would be a stamp at the building department.”

Warren noted the committee’s code demands buffers as great as 75-feet to wetlands, and states they should not approve any natural buffer less than 25-feet. He noted that Christopher’s existing buffer ranges from 15-feet in size to just a few on some portions of the property.

Tait asked Ivans so come back with a plan at the committee’s next meeting that shows a compromise.



  1. Obviously, the road is now too close to the edge of the water and at high tide there is no “beach”, just water meeting and undermining a near vertical stone embankment and then the roadway at the top. In increasing order of expense the options are to put in a bulkhead or reroute the road. Filling in and extending the beach outward seems too temporary to be worth the expense. This is not exactly pristine shoreline/wetlands or even anything close to real beach like in back of the windmill.

    So what is really so bad about bulkheading it ? How about some additional town docks to replace the rope and pulley system now used by boaters ? Just some thoughts – I am no expert.