Voting on $26.5M plan to fix beach erosion

Erosion visible at Georgica Beach in East Hampton,

Erosion visible at Georgica Beach in East Hampton, as seen looking towards the east, which has exposed rock structures that have not been seen in decades. (April 24, 2012) (Credit: Gordon M. Grant)

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Oceanfront property owners in Bridgehampton and Sagaponack will vote in special elections Saturday on whether to spend more than $13 million in each of two erosion control districts created last year to deal with the loss of beachfront caused by storms.

The plan would cost most homeowners $10,000 to $30,000 a year in taxes for the next decade -- for a project designed to reverse 25 years of erosion.

"Every home on the ocean is worth $7.5 million or more, and most of the value is in the land you own," said Jeff Lignelli, who lives on Dune Road. "Someone who had a hundred feet of dune 30 years ago probably has 40 feet now. How much more do you want to lose?"

The drive to create the erosion districts originated with homeowners such as Lignelli, many of whom already were spending tens of thousands of dollars in a losing battle to restore their beaches.

There are more than 100 parcels subject to the special tax in Bridgehampton, and 56 in Sagaponack. But, because of a quirk in voting laws covering special taxing districts, there are more potential voters than properties.

A couple who jointly own a house gets one vote. But if the deed to a single property is split among several parties, they might each get a vote.

The list of voters for Sagaponack's properties has 81 names on it, said Southampton Town clerk Sundy A. Schermeyer. Bridgehampton's properties have 112 voters.

"It depends on how the deed is drawn," Schermeyer said. "One parcel has five votes."

Many property owners do not live in Southampton during the winter, and Schermeyer said she has received about 80 absentee ballots from homeowners in both districts.

It will take a simple majority in each district to approve the commitment to raise taxes over the next 10 years to pay for pumping sand onto and in front of eroded beaches, a job expected to take three to four months.

The commitment in Sagaponack is $13,364,500, while the cost in Bridgehampton is $13,143,350. Properties outside the special erosion control district will not be taxed, and the town will pay its share for any town-owned property inside the districts.

The beaches in the two adjoining districts have lost an average of 125,000 cubic yards of sand a year over the past 20 years, enough to fill 6,250 dump trucks annually, town officials said.

Plans call for pumping 1,035,000 cubic yards of sand from about a mile offshore onto beaches and just below the shoreline in Sagaponack, and 1,092,500 cubic yards in Bridgehampton. Because the erosion control districts are considered public facilities, the cost of replacing sand lost to a future storm could be reimbursed up to 87.5 percent by FEMA and the state.

The cost for property owners depends on their beach frontage. The mega-mansion built at 281 Daniels Lane in Sagaponack by billionaire Ira Rennert -- a 100,000-square-foot compound nearly twice the size as the White House -- would pay $240,362 a year, based on a calculation that 15.284 percent of the project would go toward protecting his estate.

Voting will be held in Southampton Town Hall from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

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