On Monday, a coastal geologist, on behalf the Round Dune condominium development in East Quogue, demanded that the Southampton Town Trustees take emergency action to allow his client to install a hardened structure to protect the complex’s four buildings from falling into the ocean.
The board responded by planning a December 10 hearing to consider options.
Aram Terchunian, owner of the Westhampton Beach-based First Coastal Corporation, has a proposal in front of the Trustees to install geocubes — 3-foot geotextile cubes filled with sand and tied together, forming a man-made dune — along the approximate 340-foot stretch of beach fronting the complex.
The Trustees were skeptical of the proposal, having traditionally been opposed to hardened structures on the ocean beach. Before weighing in on the plan, the Trustees said they would have their own expert look at the situation.
The Trustees have been against hardened structures — including geocubes and similar options — for many years, and according to Trustee President Ed Warner Jr., this would be the first hardened structure along the ocean beach west of the Shinnecock Canal.
The concern with hardened structures is that they have the potential to cause additional erosion to the west of where they are installed. One example of this was the jetty system at Shinnecock Inlet, where the eastern jetty accumulates sand while the beach west of the jetties is deprived of sand being naturally placed there because of the way the rock structures redirect the east-to-west littoral drift of sand.
The cubes Mr. Terchunian is proposing would make up the core of a sand dune, placed as far landward as the foundation of the building. In addition to the sand cube-cored dune, the plan calls for removing an existing sun deck that now sits in the surf zone — one that gets battered during each coastal storm that pushes through.
On Monday, Michael Benincasa, the chief building inspector for the town, told the Trustees that the buildings were in “imminent danger of collapse if they are not protected over the winter.”
“The issue of time frame is absolutely fundamental here,” Mr. Terchunian said. “We have a patient that is suffering from a knife wound, and now is not the time to discuss their diet. Now is the time to stop their bleeding, get them healthy and then discuss their diet.”
Erosion is nothing new to the beach in front of the condominium complex.
In 1996, the State Department of Environmental Conservation and the Trustees issued permits allowing the owners of Round Dune to install a geotube, similar to a geocube, to protect the development from further erosion.
Back then, the condition of the beach was “a whole lot better than it is today,” according to Mr. Terchunian — there was 20 to 30 feet of dunes between the buildings and crest of the dune, and a much wider beach. Today, the beach is steep and cut back quite a bit, he said.
In his presentation, Mr. Terchunian showed aerial views of the beach in 2018 and 2019; over the course of one year, 50 feet of beach was sliced away by the ocean, mainly due to the October and November nor’easters that caused a dune to breach a few miles east, near the Shinnecock Commercial Fishing Docks.
He pointed out that this is only the beginning of nor’easter season, which runs through June.
Sand replenishment efforts have been attempted at Round Dune, and to date the owners have done what they can by bringing in sand, placing 80-pound sandbags along the foundation and installing sand fencing.
Since 2007, Round Dune has placed over 10,000 cubic yards of sand on the beach and spent $323,000, yet erosion has gotten worse.
“Sand alone is not a feasible option,” Mr. Terchunian said. “In fact, it has demonstratively failed at this site.”
Along with looking into sand replenishment, Mr. Terchunian has looked into reinforcing pilings, utilizing rocks or even relocating the buildings. The depth of the pilings, he said, is unknown, and according to Paul DiLandro of DiLandro Andrews Engineering, the pilings are slowly deteriorating.
Rocks, Mr. Terchunian said, are prohibited under town code, and relocating the buildings landward could take more than two years to complete and cost $6 million.
He said his client could look at other long-term options, but “it would be specifically foolhardy to ignore the present condition and just study long-term options.
“It is fundamental to act immediately,” Mr. Terchunian added.
Trustee Ann Welker asked the coastal geologist if it would be better to place the geocubes around the foundations of each building, but he said it would act the same as half of a dam — the gap between the bags would allow the waves and tide to strip away the sand between them.
“I still think in the big picture … we have to look at retreat here,” Ms. Welker said, referring to an approach to encroaching seas involving relocating buildings farther away from the water’s edge. “I don’t think there’s another option that you and your clients have. If you’ve got history back to 1997, asking for geocube placement, this has been something that’s been in your sights for an extended period of time.
“Barrier island processes are for the barrier island to move landward. We need to start to look at what our plan is,” she added.
Ms. Welker also told Mr. Terchunian that she did not think it was rational to look at only “one patient” when there is an entire beach of patients.
“We can’t look for everyone else — we can only look for ourselves,” Mr. Terchunian said. “I don’t think it’s fair, in any sense, to place the responsibility for this shoreline on the backs of 72 homeowners in this condominium. That’s distinctly unfair.”
Mr. Warner suggested that the board table the resolution so that coastal geologist Dr. Robert Young could review the plan. Dr. Young was out of the country and may need time to review the plan, he said. He also said a public hearing should be held on the matter.
“I think it’s that important, being that this will be the first and only hardened structure between Shinnecock and this point,” he said. “It’s a big project and should be viewed that way.”
But the suggestion did not sit well with Mr. Terchunian.
“I have asked for, and I ask again, an immediate decision,” he said. “I don’t think you wait in emergencies for anyone.
“Failure to act at this point puts a responsibility on this board,” he added.
Trustees Scott Horowitz and Bruce Stafford agreed that the proposal should be fast-tracked, and that a public hearing could be held at an upcoming scheduled night meeting, on Tuesday, December 10, at 7 p.m. at the David W. Crohan Center in Flanders.
Ultimately, the board unanimously approved setting the public hearing for December 10.