$ 1.5 billion storm protection plan advances, amid concerns

Elsa, the first hurricane of the season, blew over South Fork on July 9, bringing gusts, showers and reminders of the region’s vulnerability just as local authorities brace for a sprawling federal project they hope to protect against future storm damage.

More than half a century after being first proposed, the $ 1.5 billion Fire Island to Montauk Point (FIMP) project is entering the final stages of preparation before work begins, possibly starting this summer. The plan is to pump sand dredged from the seabed onto seaside beaches and erect bay-side structures along an 83-mile stretch of the south shore from Montauk Point to Fire Island Inlet. But some say the money would be better spent moving waterfront properties away from the looming threat of sea level rise.

“We cannot afford to keep dumping sand to maintain a beach that is not going to stay,” said Steven Resler, a retired State Department coastal director who advocates a policy of strategic retreat and fortification. selective, without rebuilding beach houses lost to storms. , but by building a dike for lower Manhattan.

But despite the slow progress of the FIMP – the fully federally funded project only received funding about a decade ago as part of the relief plan adopted after Sandy in 2012 – it is unlikely that officials are holding back the plan.

This is how the US Army Corps of Engineers is preparing to launch a call for tenders for the first contracts on August 3. are still awaiting a Project Participation Agreement (PPA) with the State Department of Conservation. The first phase of the project is expected to begin at Robert Moses State Park.

Heavy machinery works at Montauk Lighthouse after Elsa on July 9, Photo: Whitney Lynn

“When construction begins, Army Corps contracts specify certain aspects of the work to be included,” said James D’Ambrosio, Army Corps spokesperson. “It’s too early to say how many contracts will be needed for the entire project… If we receive acceptable bids, we expect to award a contract at the end of the summer and start construction in the fall.

Ironically, despite the inclusion of Montauk Point in its name by FIMP, the recently started project to reinforce the siding at the base of the Montauk Point Lighthouse is considered a separate job for the Army Corps.

Among the thorniest issues that remain to be resolved with the FIMP is the issue of acquiring hundreds of easements – a legal right of way allowing crews to carry out work on private property – will be needed by owners. of waterfront properties. The City of Southampton has around 500 and has yet to begin the process of hiring outside lawyers to negotiate easements. The eminent domain – the legal process in which the government acquires private property for public use – is a possibility if negotiations fail.

“It really helps the property,” said Southampton city supervisor Jay Schneiderman, who hoped the land condemnation was not necessary. “It’s in their best interest.

Villages located in the project area will also be involved in the acquisition of easements. A side effect of the FIMP is that the beaches on which federal contractors pump sand must be open to the public.

“General public access will need to be provided to the beach in Quogue Village,” Quogue Mayor Peter Sartorius said in a letter to residents. “Details are yet to be finalized, but it looks like there will be general access, daily fee parking on the plot adjacent to the Village Beach car park which is jointly owned by the City of Southampton and the Village of Quogue.”

The supporters continue to look on the bright side.

“The signing of the PPA and the start of the bid solicitation are both encouraging signs that this decades-long effort to preserve, restore and protect Long Island’s coastline is finally becoming a reality,” said the US Representative Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley).

The project is not without detractors.

“I have identified a number of concerns regarding the different components of the plan,” said Kevin McAllister, founding president of the Sag Harbor-based environmental advocacy group Defend H20. “I find that my efforts to bring these issues to the fore are greeted by elected officials with self-imposed ignorance rather than a critical examination of the outstanding issues. “

McAllister and Resler have both disputed the biological impacts of dredging 50 to 100 acre holes in the seabed to pump sand onto beaches and build dunes, which could set back marine habitats for decades or more.

Oddly enough, the debate over the effectiveness of rock jetties called groynes seems to depend on location. The argument against groynes is that they starve the beaches to the west of the sand of what is called coastal drift, or the natural flow of sand from east to west. In the village of Ocean Beach on Fire Island, the FIMP is calling for the removal of two groins, but more than a dozen groins in the Hamptons portion of the project will remain in place.

Resler argues that nature should take its course.

“Leave the barrier islands alone,” he said. “Erosion is not a bad thing there. It is necessary. Without it, we wouldn’t have what we love most about Long Island.

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About Douglas Mackenzie

Douglas Mackenzie

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