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Giant sandbags protect Lauder home during nor'easter

Workers from First Coastal fill bags containing 1.5

Workers from First Coastal fill bags containing 1.5 tons of sand and place them in front of Ron Lauder's oceanfront home just west of Beach Lane in Sagaponack, New York. (March 12, 2010)

When you're a billionaire, you can afford to do things in a big way.

So when Ronald Lauder's oceanfront Wainscott home was threatened by erosion from this weekend's nor'easter, he didn't bother protecting it with run-of-the-mill sandbags. He supersized them.

Lauder, heir to the Estee Lauder fortune and former U.S. ambassador to Austria, hired First Coastal Corp. of Westhampton Beach to place 250 giant sandbags around his foundation as temporary protection over the past week.

The bags, called geo-cubes, hold a cubic yard of sand weighing 1 1/4 tons.

"We fill them and stack them so they will act as a moderate wave barrier to dissipate some of the energy," said Billy Mack of First Coastal. "This is relatively experimental. These are the same kind of bags they used in New Orleans to fill the dikes during Katrina."

He said his company has placed them on the beach in Quogue but "they have yet to be tested" by a storm.

Mack said the storm March 2 stripped the last of the dune from in front of the house, leaving the foundation and staircase exposed to damage by the nor'easter.

Because the forecast calls for offshore wave heights of 15 to 20 feet with an east wind, the company quickly obtained emergency permits from the town and state. They allow a temporary defense that was erected this week by a crew of five with heavy equipment who wrapped up Friday before high surf covered the beach and made work impossible.

Mack said Lauder did not want the project's cost disclosed.

The company that specializes in shoreline preservation and restoration will remove the cubes and replace them with an artificial dune in the fall. "We've rebuilt the dune here already several times because there's so much erosion," Mack said. He blames jetties built in East Hampton by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in the 1960s for scouring the beachfront.

Ultimately Lauder is planning a bigger project to save his house - moving it farther back on the property.

Lauder isn't the only one worried about erosion this weekend.

Ronald Foley, regional director for the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, said with northeast winds of up to 50 mph expected for up to 36 hours, "it's ideal erosion conditions."

He said the hardest-hit areas would probably be Robert Moses State Park and along Ocean Parkway at Gilgo Beach. "North Shore beaches will get hit but they are not in as vulnerable conditions as the South Shore."

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