Montauk Petition Adds To Pressure On Army Corps To Rebuild Eroded Beaches Sooner

Montauk's beachfront suffered from severe erosion this winter and will cost the town more than $750,000 to replace the lost sand. Residents and officials are pleading with the Army Corps of Engineers to bump the region back up the priority list for the major beach nourishment projects coming in 2022.

Montauk residents and the Concerned Citizens of Montauk are trying to put a little political weight behind the pleas of East Hampton Town officials to convince the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to prioritize the replenishment of the beaches of downtown Montauk.

As the town prepares to spend more than $750,000 to replenish sand on Montauk’s beaches, a petition posted by CCOM on the website has garnered more than 1,100 signatures, calling on the Army Corps to put its plans for Montauk’s beach on the front burner. The petition demands that the Army Corps replenish Montauk’s beaches in 2022, rather than pushing it back to 2023 or later, as the Army Corps has said it plans when it mobilizes the Fire Island to Montauk Point Reformulation plan, or FIMP.

The FIMP plan puts more than $3 billion in federal funding into beach nourishment and other storm resiliency improvements along all of eastern Long Island’s southern shoreline over the next 30 years, including projects in Water Mill, Hampton Bays, East Quogue and Westhampton, along with Montauk.

The Army Corps has pledged to pump at least 450,000 cubic yards of sand — about 650,000 tons worth — from the ocean floor onto the beaches near the downtown area. East Hampton Town officials have said they are hoping the total will be more like 600,000 cubic yards.

“FIMP is an integral intermediate step in addressing the coastal resiliency of our vulnerable community and is part of a much larger, longer-term comprehensive plan to protect the Montauk downtown area,” CCOM President Laura Tooman said in the group’s plea to the federal agency. “CCOM has been deeply involved in the scientific understanding of Montauk’s coastline and in fostering the community’s development of long-term solutions such as sand replenishment and adaptive infrastructure planning to ensure the protection of Montauk and its beaches for generations to come. We look forward to seeing sand on the beaches this year.”

When the Army Corps first unveiled its planning for the long-awaited rollout of the FIMP plan, Montauk was one of the first projects that would be mobilized in late 2021 or early 2022. But just a month later the Army Corps revised its projections, bumping the Montauk project down the list behind work planned on Fire Island and setting a new mobilization date of 2023 at the earliest.

The change was made, the Army Corps said, because the Montauk project is being paired using the same dredging vessel and crew as the nourishment project planned for Tiana Beach between Hampton Bays and Quogue. But the Army Corps does not expect to have all the legal easements required for the Tiana work to begin in time to make the first window of opportunity this coming winter.

The Montauk project also limits the Army Corps’ options because the distance between the beach and the sites where sand can be vacuumed up off the bottom is too great to use a typical hydraulic dredge that pumps sand through a long pipe to shore. Instead, the project requires a “hopper” dredge, which sucks sand off the bottom into a giant hold and then transports the sand to shore where it can be pumped onto the beach.

Town officials have been mounting their own efforts to convince the Army Corps to reconsider the logistical hurdles that bumped the Montauk beach work back by at least a year. They have made a pitch to have the Montauk work combined with another project in West Hampton Dunes Village, which had been planned for later in the FIMP schedule, if the Tiana project is not able to get the legal clearances it needs in time.

Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said this week that the town and its consultants have been meeting with the Army Corps and he is “optimistic” the corps is understanding of the town’s concerns both about the vulnerability of the downtown Montauk area and the costs the town and Suffolk County are incurring each year to rebuild the artificial dune along the Montauk waterfront — a project the Army Corps conceived and forecast would only cost about $150,000 in annual maintenance.

Instead, the town will need to have about 17,000 cubic yards of sand trucked in and dumped atop the 3,000-foot wall of sandbags erected by the Army Corps in 2015 to protect the hotels and business in Montauk’s downtown. The work will cost about $765,000, split between the town and Suffolk County.

In some years, the costs have eclipsed $1 million and the town has said it is unfair of the Army Corps to continue foisting that cost on the town by delaying the broader beach nourishment that it had pledged would only be two or three years away when the sandbag project was proposed.

Mr. Van Scoyoc said that the work to re-bury the sandbags will begin next week and must be done by May 15. Montauk’s beaches were battered by storms this year but have recovered somewhat in the last month as calmer seas have pushed sand back ashore.

“It did look a little bit better lately, the appearance improved, but I’m not sure how much of the sand has actually come back,” Mr. Van Scoyoc said. “I think we will get some help. The Corps has been listening and was sympathetic to our position, we think.”