By Josh Farber and Joshua B. Milien
Montauk escaped serious coastal erosion following Tropical Storm Jose last week, but the storm highlighted the importance of erosion prevention efforts during hurricane and nor’easter seasons.
“There wasn’t significant erosion, at least on the east end beaches,” Kevin McAllister, a coastal zone management expert and president of Defend H20, said.
In Montauk, higher than normal tides pushed water to the base of the dunes at Hither Hills State Park, based on the seaweed and driftwood left behind. Minor erosion was evident along the beaches berm crest, but not along the dunes.
“It went up to the dunes but it didn’t cut too much into the dunes. All in all, we got lucky so far, beach erosion wise,” Jim MacFarlane, captain of lifeguards at Hither Hills State Park, said.
It was a different story near downtown Montauk. At high tide, water inundated the artificial dunes at both of the main town beaches: Kirk and South Edison Beaches.
“Montauk town beach is being chewed up by the hour,” Mark McGuire, a visitor from Baldwin, New York, said.
Portions of the town beach actually had sand pushed onshore, according to Peter VanScoyoc, a member of the East Hampton Town Board. Portions of the beach closer to the downtown area did experience erosion, and some hotels and motels, built on the beaches dunes, came within feet of being flooded. Erosion control fencing was also knocked over.
“Motels shouldn’t be there,” Doug Haak, a docent at Montauk Point Lighthouse, said. “Dunes are how nature builds and rebuilds its beaches.”
In March 2016, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers installed a $9 million shoreline hardening project, consisting of 14,000 large sandbags along a 3,100 foot stretch between downtown Montauk and Atlantic Ocean This project was supposed to protect the oceanfront village, but was severely damaged during Hurricane Hermine in September 2016, and again from nor’easters during the winter, according to Haak.
The dunes were repaired this spring, and only experienced minor damage from Jose.
“To a certain degree, sand placed on the beach is expected to be sacrificial as it absorbs the full power of the open-ocean,” the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said in an August news release.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimates annual maintenance costs of $150,000 to replenish sand wiped away during storms and to maintain erosion fencing. The town will also be responsible for repairs to the project following storms, unless in the event of a federally declared disaster, according to the town.
“Relative to maintaining our beaches we have to start thinking about coastal retreat, withdrawing from these areas that are vulnerable as opposed to being responsive with shoreline hardening,” McAllister said.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had considered a proposal to move the Montauk Point Lighthouse back 800 feet from the shore in 2006, but decided against it due to its $27 million price tag. The current rock revetment and terracing project, completed in 2000, has been successful in hindering further erosion at the point, according to Haak.
“If we end up walling off the coast we will lose those shorelines, water will come right up to a vertical seawall and that loss of habitat will cause the disappearance of sandy shorelines and cause the elimination of nesting habitats,” McAllister said.
The sandy beach surrounding the Montauk Point Lighthouse had disappeared by the 1960s, and today waves crash directly onto the rock revetment, according to Haak.
The waves from Jose, however, weren’t much worse than a run of the mill nor’easter, which are more common during the winter.
“It looked like a regular nor’easter. We got lucky again, thank god, we didn’t get hit too bad at all,” Greg Ingstrom, a lifeguard at Hither Hills State Park, said.
Montauk will have to hope for the best from nor’easters this winter, as the town of East Hampton has no plans to replenish sand along the town beaches in the near future, according to VanScoyoc.
“Come back in the winter,” Haak said in regards to erosion project in town.