Harbor Committee Once Again Resists Push for a New Bulkhead

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Photo of scoured shoreline south of an existing bulkhead at 188 Redwood Road in Sag Harbor as shown at the November 4 Harbor Committee meeting. The panel’s members are refusing to approve a plan to rebuild and extend the bulkhead, saying that it’s the reason for the erosion on the neighboring property,

Battle lines over the problems of shoreline armoring hardened last week when the attorney for a shorefront property owner faced off for a second time with the Sag Harbor Village Harbor Committee over his plan to rebuild and extend a bulkhead on Sag Harbor Cove.

He made no more headway before the committee this month than he did at its previous monthly meeting, with the panel again tabling the application without a decision.

The property owner at 188 Redwood Road, Josh Schwarts, wants to replace the aging bulkhead and extend it around a corner of his yard to prevent further shoreline erosion there.

The committee resisted the plan when it was presented in October, calling for a “soft” solution, instead of replacing and extending the bulkhead, which board members blamed for the erosion.

But Schwartz sent his lawyer back to the panel for its November 4 Zoom meeting without budging. Haley Willis of the Adam Miller Group, his attorney, told the board that she had come back without revised plans because changing them would take too long.

“This situation needs to be addressed urgently,” she said, especially with winter weather just ahead. If her client has to develop an alternative proposal, he would have to start all over again seeking new approvals from the Southampton Town Trustees, the Army Corps of Engineers and the state DEC, all of which have granted permits for the bulkhead work.

“This is a situation not of our client’s making,” she said, repeating what she told the panel when it first heard the application last month: vegetation on the neighbor’s property to the south, which had been holding the shoreline together and blocking erosion there, had been “ripped out,” exposing the beach to scouring.

Joining her before the committee was Jane Costello of Costello Marine Contracting Corp. She said the scouring wasn’t the result of the bulkhead at 188 Redwood, but the neighbor having “removed all the trees all of a sudden.”

If the shoreline vegetation was removed without the committee’s approval, that’s a wetlands code violation and “we can make them restore it,” noted chairwoman Mary Ann Eddy.

The bulkhead probably was put in to retain fill that had been placed decades ago by a previous owner to extend the depth of the property, panel member Will Sharp and the board’s environmental consultant, Charles Voorhis, said last month. The fill and the bulkhead cutting off the flow of sand were the problem, not the removal of vegetation, they said.

The bulkhead and fill had been installed long before her client bought the property, Ms. Willis said. That’s not the issue, Sharp replied; the bulkhead and fill are. The matter “shouldn’t be a Hatfields and McCoys” battle between neighbors, he added; the larger issue is the integrity of “our waterfront.”

“Where does that leave us?” Willis asked. “I don’t have the power to compel” the neighbors “to come before the Harbor Committee” to plan a joint soft solution.

“Myself, I just can’t see approving more bulkheading” on Sag Harbor’s waterfront, Eddy said. “It just passes the problem on for a few more years.”

“How does the property owner protect their property?” Costello asked in reply.

Citing the wetlands code, Voorhis noted that it allows bulkheads to be approved only when they are “immediately necessary” to prevent the loss or damage of a structure. “I don’t think that’s been demonstrated at this time,” he said.

“The structure that is in danger of loss … is the existing bulkhead,” Willis argued, and the proposed bulkhead return is needed to “maintain the status quo.”

The code “does say principal building or structure,” Voorhis replied.

The applicant is proposing “putting in more bulkhead to preserve bulkhead,” Eddy said, is “kind of a disconnect.”

When Short commented that the bulkhead benefits one homeowner but “it’s certainly a detriment to the adjacent homeowner,” Willis replied: “I find it kind of hard to believe our client … is being accused of causing a problem on the neighbor’s property when in reality it was the neighbor’s action that is causing the problem on the applicant’s property.”

Eddy acknowledged that “we [the Harbor Committee’s past members] share responsibility” for having granted a permit for the bulkhead years ago, but said she did not “feel good” about “going forward and compounding” the problem.

The 45-minute hearing began to wind down after Voorhis acknowledged that historical aerial photos show that “protective intertidal vegetation on the property to the south … is not there at present,” either because of intentional destruction of wetlands, erosive scouring or perhaps sea level rise and that the unprotected shoreline there could lead to further damage.

“I think it’s up the Harbor Committee to direct the applicant to observe the provisions of the code and it’s up to the applicant to come up with something the Harbor Committee is comfortable approving,” he said.

“It might be necessary to grade into the property some,” he said, “and create some type of protection”: a rock revetment, aggressive vegetative planting or an expanded area of nature vegetative buffer.

Willis asked how much of her client’s property would be lost during the time it will take to plan, win permits for, and execute an alternative plan and complained about a procedure that she said required her client to have all permits in hand before coming to the Harbor Committee.

“That’s not true. You can come to us first,” Eddy said. If a project wins the panel’s approval, she added, it’s sure to be approved by the more lenient Town Trustees, Army Corps and DEC.

The hearing was adjourned.

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