Southampton Town has allowed a controversial emergency erosion control method to be placed in front of a Dune Road condominium complex, a decision that could set a precedent as other waterfront property owners grapple with an encroaching ocean.
Residents of Round Dune in East Quogue said their buildings are in danger of being washed away in the surf without immediately placing sand-filled “geocubes” in front their 72-unit complex. Critics fear approval of the project can worsen erosion in other areas, as it disrupts the natural flow of sand.
The sandbags would be a short-term fix until the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers begins its long-awaited Fire Island to Montauk Point, or FIMP, plan for a major beach nourishment, said Aram Terchunian, a coastal geologist with First Coastal, an environmental consulting firm in Westhampton Beach working on behalf of the residents. The agreement with the town stipulates the geocubes must be removed in six months, with a possible three-month extension.
"The situation is getting worse and there is no recovery in sight that would change the trajectory toward imperilment," Terchunian said during a Dec. 10 public hearing in Flanders.
First Coastal applied for a permit last month to install the interconnected geocubes and cover them with 2,500 cubic yards of sand to stabilize 340 feet of eroded beach. The project had received permits from the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the town, but needed the blessing of the Southampton Town Trustees, an elected governing body charged with overseeing some public lands.
Kevin McAllister, president of the Sag Harbor-based environmental group Defend H20, said during the hearing that geocubes are classified as a shore hardening structure that can be effective in protecting development but often worsen erosion. Several residents and environmentalists spoke out against the plan during the hearing, noting that hardening the shoreline in one location forces neighbors to do the same to protect their homes.
Andrew Cirincione of Quogue said he sympathized with the Round Dune residents, but thought geocubes were not the answer.
“Hard structures are put in to protect the houses, not the beach,” he said. “We have to consider all of the people of Southampton who use the beach.”
The town's policy is not to approve shore hardening structures, except in cases where the property is in imminent danger and no practical alternative exists, said Southampton chief environmental analyst Marty Shea.
Round Dune residents said their request meets those requirements and have raised $400,000 to pay for the work. They are not requesting taxpayer money.
“We just see it as an emergency need which our consultants are telling us is the only choice we have,” said Michael Kates, one of the dozen or so Round Dune residents who attended the hearing. “We want to save the patient until we find a cure.”
Local officials will need to make policy decisions on whether to endorse further armoring of the shoreline or set a framework for retreating from the area, McAllister said.
The Trustees ultimately voted 3-1 in favor of the proposal. Trustee Ann Welker voted against it, citing the need for a long-term plan for coastal management.
“We are not looking to the future,” she said after casting her vote. “There is a new paradigm that needs to begin. Where will it begin?”
Not on the same erosion-prevention page
Four circular buildings comprise the seasonal oceanfront co-op Round Dune, where units for sale range from $355,000 to $850,000, according to its website.
Owners said a recently approved project to place sand-filled “geocubes” between the ocean and the buildings will protect the condos from erosion in the short term.
Critics fear the project, which is a form of shoreline hardening, will scour other portions of the beach.