By Charles Hamma and Darwin Yanes
Montauk’s eroding shorelines were the main theme of a town hall meeting in East Hampton on February 6, during which the Massachusetts-based architectural firm Dodson & Flinker presented a plan for downtown business relocation.
East Hampton planning director Marguerite Wolffsohn said the town board requested a detailed study of all hamlets including Montauk as part of their comprehensive plan in 2005. The plan put forth by Dodson & Flinker to relocate the downtown businesses is a three-step process to deal with the erosion problem.
“What’s increasingly plain to people is downtown Montauk is threatened by erosion,” Peter Flinker, Dodson & Flinker principal, said. “Our task was figuring out how to keep the downtown areas viable into the future.”
To some experts like Kevin McAllister, the president of a nonprofit coastal zone sustainability group called Defend H2O, erosion in Montauk was amplified in the 1960s when the majority of their hotels were built.
“The town excavated into a primary dune in order to build these hotels,” he said. “By doing that, you reflect the wave energy back offshore that the dune would’ve absorbed and accelerate the erosion of the fronting beach.”
The increased erosion of the fronting beach can disrupt the ecosystems in the area containing marine life, said Kathleen Fallon, a coastal processes and hazards specialist.
“Before the sediment settles, erosion would increase turbidity and lessen water clarity,” Fallon, who’s also the head of the New York Sea Grant program, said. “This could affect organisms who rely on sunlight for photosynthesis.”
East Hampton has explored multiple options in the past to try and deal with Montauk’s erosion problem. One solution came after superstorm Sandy when the town board had the Army Corp of Engineers install 14,000 sandbags to stabilize the downtown beach. However, some experts said it was illegal.
“That structure violates one of the 46 coastal policy statements for New York,” Steve Resler, the formal coastal region manager for the New York Department of State, said. “Only natural structures should be used to deal with erosion to keep human life, property, and natural development out of harm’s way.”
Another project undertaken by the Army Corp dealt with the erosion of the bluff on which the Montauk Point Lighthouse stands. Large boulders were placed at the base of the bluff to slow the erosion down, something that Resler has been done 3 or 4 times. But he said that each time it has been done, sand is being lost and eventually, people can lose the beach.
The relocation plan put forth by Dodson & Flinker will undergo further evaluation in the coming months. East Hampton town board officials will make any changes based on public comments, put the plan through an environmental review, and then schedule a hearing over the summer, supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said.
“We need to realize that we’re already impacted by super storms and the worst is yet to come,” Sylvia Overby, deputy supervisor and project liaison, said. “We need to be considering this because it’s a reality and we can’t just turn our heads away.”