Last Friday the Southampton Town board was brought up to speed on the Army Corps of Engineers Fire Island Inlet to Montauk Point Reformulation (FIMP) Study, which incorporates 83 miles of ocean coastline and 100 miles of bay coastline in Suffolk County. According to Supervisor Linda Kabot the study has been a long time coming. Kabot said $27 million to date had been spent on the project that has been “going on for decades.”
The Corps recently released a formulation report so all of the involved parties can offer input as to how the study should proceed. The report includes a timeline that indicates a final report by 2010, the project’s authorization by 2012 with actual construction activities beginning in 2013.
“They’re trying to convince federal agencies and state agencies and town and county to be on the same page — to move the project to completion,” said Kabot on Friday. “The goal from our perspective is to have all five towns work together and not be in competition for money that might come out of the study.”
There are a number of obstacles in the way of the study actually being completed, the major one being the mutual agreement of all the involved parties. Kabot said she believed the current issue was between the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the federal government. She said while they seem to be on the same page, the state has a lot of questions about the long-term maintenance of the projects.
“Our key in this is ensuring that the state agencies are in agreement and they issue their joint letter of support,” said Kabot on Wednesday. “The next hurdle is to have all of the federal agencies agree. At the end of the day the [Department of the Interior] has a very great say.”
She said when all is said and done if the “fish and wildlife people” in Washington don’t agree with the state DEC, there could be a lot of “wasted taxpayer dollars.”
Â State Assemblyman Fred Thiele sees another major hurdle. He thinks it will ultimately come down to funding the project and a major influence on that will be the upcoming presidential election.
“As far as coastal protection goes, the Bush administration has not been a friend of eastern Long Island,” he said. “Every year it has taken money out for coastal protection and then left it for Congress to take back in.”
Thiele said he believes the state is ready to go, but that with a new president will come new priorities and that could be the ultimate tipping point.
The study is meant to identify long term solutions to reduce the risk of coastal storms while also protecting the environment. As far as Southampton Town goes, the major area of focus ranges from Moriches Bay all the way to Sagaponack.
Southampton Town Trustee Jon Semlear said on Friday, “A lot of the recommendations in this plan are part of our day to day operations.”
He mentioned proactive breach closures as one example and brought up a wash out at Gibson Lane after a recent storm. Kabot said the breaches could become a “crisis” due to their effects on the mainland. She said Mecox Bay is identified as a damage vector that could one day become an inlet if a serious breach occurred.
Kabot said such a breach contingency plan would prevent what happened in1992 when Pikes Inlet was hit by a storm and “all sorts of homes were wiped out to sea.”
A major issue for Southampton, according to Kabot, is getting a sand bypass operation in place at Shinnecock Inlet. Sand bypass is the moving of sand from a place of accretion to a place of erosion.
“We have sand starved beaches in Hampton Bays and the East Quogue area,” said Kabot.
Also of concern for Southampton are the groins at Shinnecock and Georgica Pond. Much of the erosion at Sagg Main Beach has been attributed to the Georgica groins, which were constructed by the Army Corps in the 1960s. When the groins were installed, beach replenishment to the east was promised but has yet to happen. Currently there is a lawsuit pending against the Army Corps concerning the issue.
Semlear noted on Friday that the formulation study does support a modification of the groins, something he said the town was “hoping for.”
As for East Hampton Town, Supervisor Bill McGintee said on Wednesday that his main focus concerning the reformulation is on the hamlet of Montauk. The way he sees it, it’s a system wide study and Montauk, being the eastern boundary of the study area, serves the entire system.
“Any sand you give to Montauk is sand to the entire system,” he said. “We’ve been a donor for 300 years to the west, because that’s the way the drift is.”
Since sand naturally drifts from the east to the west, McGintee said he was hoping to “rely on science” and keep the politics out of it. However he said he certainly believes the five Suffolk County towns, all with coastline on the Atlantic, should lobby as one voice.