North Haven Village Weighs Unifying Policy on Beach Protection

Eroded beachfront at 3 Mashomack Drive on the east side of the North Haven peninsula. PETER BOODY

Taking an early step toward establishing a uniform policy on shoreline protection, the North Haven Village Board last week conducted an on-line work session to go over a new waterfront inventory of the North Haven peninsula prepared by Race Coastal Engineering of Stratford, Connecticut.

The eventual goal, Mayor Jeff Sander said at the December 18 Zoom session, is to develop a “formal plan for the island to use to evaluate requests for home protection” from erosion. (The mayor refers to the village as an island, not a peninsula.)

A copy of the report and its recommendations, which are in draft form, was not released to the public.

The report assesses existing erosion concerns, structures and coastal conditions around the entire peninsula, dividing them into different categories. “Across the village,” it shows “very few properties that are not improved in some way or are in a critical condition” in terms of erosion threats, Race’s principal engineer, Azure Dee Sleicher, told the board.

“That’s a pretty good thing, considering the miles of shoreline” the village has, she added.

In response to questions from Trustee Terie Diat, a shoreline homeowner herself who was elected to the board this fall, Mr. Sander further explained that the village has been “lacking” a review protocol that takes in the impact of proposed beach structures on neighboring properties.

“You can’t address each property individually,” he said, because shoreline protection measures — particularly hard structures such as bulkheads — “create significant impacts on either side.” He said that was why “we pushed Race” to favor soft structures — such as revegetation, sand renourishment and the installation of coir fiber logs — in its recommendations for beachfront protection measures.

“We need a plan that requires unison” in considering multiple properties, the mayor added, “if a trigger [erosion] event occurs” along a particular swathe of bluff or marsh shoreline.

It was at the direction of the village that we “considered soft solutions first until [they are] proven not to work,” said Ms. Sleicher. She added that was in keeping with “the village’s vision of promoting nonstructural solutions” to erosion threats.

But commenting on the mayor’s push for cooperation across multiple properties, she told him and the board that “I’ve had few experiences over 20 years of [coastal engineering work] of homeowners coming together for the common good.”

Ms. Diat expressed concern that Race’s recommendations for higher bluff zones were “inconsistent” with the overall analysis of wave heights for low- and medium-bluff and marsh zones. She cited an application for beach protection at 3 Mashomack Drive, where the recommendation is “to put in a rock revetment.”

“We can take another look at breaking down and adjusting the recommendations,” Ms. Sleicher replied.

Ms. Diat commented later in the session, “I didn’t realize there was a bias for nonstructural solutions” in the village.

“I’d like to understand that. I don’t want to make homeowners do something that is destined to fail.”

“I spent a lot of time on that, a year or more,” Mayor Sander said of his experience working with homeowners seeking to install erosion control projects. He said he would talk with Ms. Diat about the history of the issue “off line.”

Chris Fiore, a newly appointed member of the Planning Board, also raised concerns. He spoke of the expense and disruption of providing temporary “road” access to beachfront parcels so that trucks carrying stone for revetments and sand for renourishment can access the beachfront.

He also questioned the practicality and level of homeowner commitment for projects that require long-term sand renourishment, such as the proposed rock revetment at 3 Mashomack and plans for protection measures at two properties on Forest Road pending before the Planning Board.

“It doesn’t seem like a smart way to spend money,” he said.