North Haven Critics Hope To Undermine Erosion-Control Law

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

By Stephen J. Kotz

North Haven Village’s effort to limit the construction of rock revetments, bulkheads and other shore-armoring projects is sure to set off fireworks when the village board reopens a public hearing on the matter on Tuesday, July 5, at 5 p.m.

A number of residents, or in most cases the attorneys representing them, urged the board to reconsider the measure when it was introduced at a public hearing last month.

Among those opposed to the law as drafted is Edward Stern, whose home is nestled behind a towering bluff that looks out westward over Noyac Bay on a street that takes its name from that predominant geographical feature: On the Bluff.

Mr. Stern, who said he has already spent a fortune shoring up the approximately 75-foot tall bluff that marks the western edge of his property with plantings and large rolls of coconut fiber called coir logs, is worried that when the next big storm hits, it will simply wash away all the work he has done.

“Just because this worked in Sandy doesn’t mean it would work in Irene,” he said, while giving a reporter a tour of the narrow beach below his home.

Mr. Stern said he and several neighbors want to work together to design and install a stone revetment that would run the length of their properties. The wall, which he estimated would rise 6 to 8 feet above grade, would protect the base of the bluff from the kind of waves and high tides that can accompany a nasty nor’easter and shear away precious feet from it, he said. He pointed to a similar wall across the channel separating North Haven from Shelter Island and said it had done no damage to the beach there.

One problem with the village’s new law, he said, is it does not encourage such group projects. “You have to prove that your property is ‘uniquely threatened,’” said, calling that an arbitrary standard and one that leaves too much to the whims of the village board, which he said is trying to make itself “litigation proof” by enacting an overly restrictive law.

Mayor Jeff Sander said he was sympathetic to the plight of Mr. Stern and anyone who owns a house threatened by erosion, but he said the village was trying to put a stop to policy mistakes of years past that left much of the village’s shoreline protected by armoring that has robbed it of its beach.

“If you look along the east shore, there is extensive bulkheading, and those properties have lost their beach,” he said. A similar pattern exists to the south of Mr. Stern’s property, where a series of bulkheads and revetments protect the shoreline, including at the home of the investor Richard Perry, who owns the former Pallottine Brothers house, a North Haven landmark.

The village has been trying to come up with guidelines to deal with the issue and its attorney, Anthony Tohill, drafted the new law after the village received a report on the erosion issues facing it from environmental consultant Lee Weishar of the Woods Hole Group, a Massachusetts firm.

If adopted, the new law will allow homeowners to simply apply for a building permit to replant their bluffs, but if they want to add shoreline hardening, they’ll have to apply to the village board. Mr. Sander said the village would bring in environmental consultants to weigh in the risk-reward posed by any armoring.

The new village law has already received the enthusiastic backing of the environmentalist Kevin McAllister, the former Peconic Baykeeper and the current president of Defend H20.

“I’m very supportive of it,” he said. “It is trying to achieve all the right goals.”

He said the village was trying to weigh the threat to private property against the right of the public to have beach access. As global warming leads to more sea level rise, “we are seeing more and more applications seeking structures to protect against erosion,” he said. “There is an absolute trade-off in lost beach.”

Even modest walls can have an impact over time, as the beach is scoured away in front of them, he said.

Aram Terchunian, whose firm First Coastal has worked on a range of beach projects for more than 30 years, said he was concerned that North Haven’s law is taking a one-size-fits-all approach to erosion. He conceded there are times a so-called soft solution involving plantings will work fine and other times it will be doomed to failure.

He said the village would be better served by adopting a law that is based on scientific calculations he said could accurately predict the rate of erosion and thus inform the nature of the solution required.

Mr. Terchunian, whose company has done work for Mr. Stern and his neighbors, said, “Community-based solutions are almost always more effective than when one works alone.”

On his beach walk, Mr. Stern pointed out places where bulkheads had replaced the beach. “None of us want to see this happen,” he insisted.

But Mr. Sander said he would take a skeptical view to any claim that armoring would not eat away at the beach.

“It’s like saying half the cars on Long Beach Road are going 60, so why can’t I?,” he said.