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Sep 17, 2019 5:43 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Montauk Beach Restoration Would Be Costly, But Possibly Worth The Cost To Those Who Would Pay

Coastal engineering consultant Aram Terchunian detailed the costs and community reaction to plans to nourish the beaches in Montauk in 2021 for the East Hampton Town Board.
Sep 17, 2019 5:43 PM

East Hampton has a ripe opportunity to rebuild Montauk’s beachfront at a discount by piggybacking on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plans to bolster the beach near the hamlet’s downtown.

And residents and visitors this summer told surveyors that a broad sandy beach is a top priority for them, especially at Ditch Plains, and that they’d be willing to pay out of their own pockets to get it.

But the price tag will be enormous, and town officials have a lot of figuring to do in deciding who to have pay for what parts of the work it is considering.

Westhampton Beach-based coastal engineering consultant Aram Terchunian presented the East Hampton Town Board on Tuesday with a draft of the potential project plan, showing four separate erosion districts between Hither Hills State Park and eastern Ditch Plains, each with its own needs in terms of coastal bolstering.

Mr. Terchunian — who guided Southampton Town through the planning and construction of a $25 million rebuilding of six miles of beach from Water Mill to Sagaponack in 2014 — told the board that rebuilding the beach only between downtown Montauk and Ditch Plains would cost in the neighborhood of $15 million. He also said it likely would require repeated multimillion-dollar deposits of new sand at regular intervals for the foreseeable future, because the region receives very little natural replenishment of sand from eastern Montauk’s rocky coastline.

But the federal project is a unique opportunity to reset the clock for Montauk’s beaches, Mr. Terchunian said, and set it up for a long-term benefit.

“There’s an opportunity to increase the size of the downtown Montauk project and/or to undertake additional projects in the vicinity, because one of the largest costs in any of these projects is the mobilization of the dredge,” he said. “It’s about $4 million just to mobilize the dredge. So if there’s a dredge on site and you can piggyback on this other project, you can spread that mobilization charge over a much larger volume of sand, and thereby your cost per cubic yard is reduced.”

He also noted that stretching out the length of the project to two miles or more exponentially increases the amount of time you can expect the deposited sand to stay in the area of the beach. “If you double the length of a project, you actually quadruple the lifetime of the project,” he said.

The Army Corps has pledged to use a large dredging barge to pump about 450,000 cubic yards of sand — about 600,000 tons, or 45,000 dump trucks, worth — from natural offshore stockpiles onto the beaches along a 6,000-foot stretch of beach directly adjacent to downtown Montauk.

The town and its consultants lobbied the Army Corps for years to bring in at least double that amount and tie in the Ditch Plains area. When the Army Corps said its cost-to-benefit formulas wouldn’t allow it, the town began planning to do the additional work itself.

A committee of Montauk residents and business owners — including the owners of some of Montauk’s large oceanfront hotels, who would be expected to bear large portions of the costs but also reap the most benefits — have been working on the scope of the potential work the town could undertake, and how to pay for it.

The plan is to create a special taxing district, called an erosion control district, that would give the town the opportunity to issue a bond for the huge sum of money needed. Once the taxing district is created, which would require a referendum vote by the residents of the would-be district, the town would be able to assess a new tax on the properties within the district to pay off the loans.

Mr. Terchunian’s company, First Coastal, has drafted a map of the potential new district, broken into four independent and separate sectors, each with its own needs along the beachfront and its own pool of taxable properties.

The Shadmoor-to-Ditch Plains reach presents the most complicated calculation, because the faint natural sand supply would require the largest new inputs, and the extensive amount of publicly owned land means there are few properties that benefit directly from the rebuilt beach.

Mr. Terchunian recommended that the entirety of the Ditch Plains neighborhood, including the 100-unit Montauk Shores community, should be included in the taxing district, since most of the homes are an easy walk to the beach and would see benefits.

There would also be benefits from the beach bolstering in that area to the work being done to the west.

“The benefit of providing the separate project [at Ditch Plains] is that it provides the feeder beach,” Councilman David Lys said. “The feeder beach is one of the most important aspects of the project, because with the hoodoos and everything being clay out there, there’s not much sand that is heading east to west.”

Also, when First Coastal surveyed hundreds of beachgoers over the summer, Ditch Plains came out on top as the favorite beach in Montauk — and the costs of pumping up the beach seemed of lesser concern.

Among the 422 people who took the survey, those who were short-term visitors overwhelmingly said that a surcharge on their hotel room bills would not send them looking elsewhere for their future summer vacation spots. They said they would welcome the additional expense if it meant they’d find a wide sandy beach when they returned.

Even residents said they’d be willing to pay higher property taxes for a nicer beach, though more said they think more of the costs should be picked up by the guests at the oceanfront hotels than tacked onto property tax bills of residents.

Unlike in Sagaponack and Bridgehampton, the Montauk project, especially in the Ditch Plains area, probably would not be able to spread its costs out over a 10-year bonding period, because the expected “life” of the project would not be as long. The project is not as robust as the work to the west, and there would be less natural replenishment taking place.

Mr. Terchunian’s company will soon begin mailing the same seven questions it asked beachgoers at random this summer to every homeowner in the proposed erosion control district boundaries as it tries to gauge support. The results of the survey over the summer, he said, were statistically significant and both surprising at some turns and unsurprising at others.

“Even residents will say to you, yeah, some type of property tax is appropriate — I found that to be significant,” the consultant said. “The first takeaway from this is, big shock, everyone loves the beach. Second takeaway is, everyone is willing to pay for the beach. Third takeaway, another big shock, is that they want someone else to pay for the beach.”

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The ocean can move more sand than humans.
By Aeshtron (415), Southampton on Sep 18, 19 11:22 AM
1 member liked this comment
15-20 million for a project that will self-destruct over time at an unknown pace? Yikes.
By harbor (411), East Hampton on Sep 18, 19 11:48 AM
1 member liked this comment
Here we go again!

When the lighthouse is on the island of Montauk Point, Gurneys is on the island of Hither Hills, Lazy Point and the Napeague Stretch are under water, and so forth . . .

. . . maybe we can all awake from the folly of our dream state in denial about the rising ocean water level?

Hah!
By PBR (4954), Southampton on Sep 18, 19 4:13 PM
1 member liked this comment
New article including section on rising ocean water levels:

http://www.27east.com/news/article.cfm/East-End/610283/Climate-Change-Is-Happening-On-The-East-End

Hah!
By PBR (4954), Southampton on Sep 19, 19 8:34 PM
Lazy point? Could be a great right hander!!
By Fred s (3207), Southampton on Sep 18, 19 4:37 PM
foinest koind of wave Bub, foinest koind
By bigfresh (4596), north sea on Sep 18, 19 5:13 PM
1 member liked this comment
How much will Aram make on this scam?
By bigfresh (4596), north sea on Sep 18, 19 4:57 PM
can not fight mother nature ....ocean will go where it wants to
By ashhelm (9), halesite on Sep 19, 19 8:34 AM
Either you end up with armor plated waterfront, no beach no tourism, or you bring in the sand and maintain the economy, not to mention property values. Its a hard pill to swallow, but there is more to it than just bringing in sand.....
By North Sea Citizen (564), North Sea on Sep 19, 19 11:08 AM
1 member liked this comment