By Stephen J. Kotz
North Haven Village, which earlier this year proposed a new law that would make it much more difficult for bluff-front property owners to install stone armoring to protect their property, is rethinking its approach.
Speaking at a village board meeting Tuesday, Mayor Jeff Sander said he had met with a number of property owners who are concerned that the proposed new law, which would require a soft approach using plantings and other natural means to control erosion, would leave their property at the whims of Mother Nature.
Although the original version of the law would allow hard structures on a case-by-case basis, “the homeowners would like to build that into the law,” the mayor said.
“They would like to craft a law that basically says homeowners need to implement a soft approach, do everything in their power to protect their property with plantings,” he said. “But should a major, significant storm occur that would trigger a significant loss of bank … then the law would allow them to come forward with an application to proceed on a favorable basis to harden.”
Mr. Sander said the first step would be for a topographical survey to be made of the entire length of the village’s western shoreline “to develop a baseline that defines the current condition of the banks.” The second step would be to require homeowners to become actively engaged in trying to protect the existing bluffs by means of soft plantings.
“The real challenge would be to establish what a trigger point would be” to allow an affected homeowner to apply for armoring and the extent of that armoring, the mayor said.
He said the village would introduce a new proposed law as early as next month, outlining those changes.
That news was greeted with disappointment by Kevin McAllister, the president of Defend H2O. Mr. McAllister, who has had a long career in coastal management, said he had applauded the board’s initial law, but now had grave concerns.
Mr. McAllister said he feared any piecemeal approach at hardening the shoreline would cause damage down drift.
“This is really an all or nothing prospect,” he said. “Either we are going to armor that shoreline in its entirety or we are going to take the stance that we are going to reject armoring to perpetuate the values and functions of a natural shoreline.” A natural shoreline, he added, would provide the best habitat for wildlife because trying to nourish a beach with sand that is built upon a stone base is not sustainable.
Mr. McAllister also said care should be taken to make sure the tops of bluffs were not overly fertilized or planted with turf that is irrigated heavily, which could cause additional erosion. “I think it is incumbent on the property owners that they are doing their very best to be good stewards on the top side of the bluff to be sure they are not destabilizing it by their own actions,” he said.
If the law is modified he hoped the village would only allow hardening if a house was threatened, not just the property, he added.
But Jeff Friedman, who has sought to shore up the bluff along his property for the past four years, welcomed the village’s change in tone.
“I appreciate your recognition that homeowners have value attached to their property, that consideration is being given to the land and not just the structure,” he said.
He said the “degradation of a bluff can be very rapid and precipitous” and that giving property owners the option of applying for armoring would be a great relief. He also suggested that Mr. McAllister’s assertion that nourishing an armored beach “is arguable. I’m sure you’ll hear from lots of experts about how effective that can be.”
Dr. Friedman also said the proposed law affects 17 properties along North Haven’s western shore. “Eighty-five percent of the west side of North Haven is already armored with revetments, planned revetments, or bulkheads,” he said. “It seems unfortunate for us that we are put I in a situation that many of our neighbors were not put in.”
Noting that his own application “was in part the trigger for the board thinking collectively about what the solution was,” Dr. Friedman asked the village to move swiftly with its review.