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Erosion worries heighten on the East End

Erosion that was worsened by the recent blizzard

Erosion that was worsened by the recent blizzard in front of The Montauk Soundview Resort on Soundview Drive in Montauk Friday afternoon. (December 31, 2010) Photo Credit: Gordon M. Grant

Nearly a week after the blizzard, Soundview Drive and Captain Kidd's Path in Montauk resembled a construction zone, with heavy trucks moving back and forth, generators whining, and steel sheeting and boulders piled along the beach.

The construction crews weren't taking the day off like most other workers Friday for New Year's Eve. The Block Island Sound shoreline west of the Montauk Inlet jetties took the worst pounding on Long Island from the ferocious storm. The crews had stepped in to save the house owned by Frank Devito from collapsing after his bulkhead was demolished, and to keep a half-dozen surrounding homes from being undermined after their sea walls were weakened.

Meanwhile, Suffolk officials are pushing to get the state Office of Emergency Management and Federal Emergency Management Agency to come to the county this week to see whether erosion from the storm would qualify for federal disaster assistance. The county is hoping to show there was the required minimum of $4 million in damage in Suffolk and $25 million statewide to qualify for FEMA reimbursement.

Aram Terchunian, coastal geologist at First Coastal Corp., a marine construction firm in Westhampton Beach, explained that the damage was the worst at north-facing beaches because the winds gusting to 55 mph came from the east and northeast. They generated waves 17 feet high "and it hit right at high tide," so there was a 3 1/2-foot tidal surge in Montauk.

"It's a chronic situation there," he said. "The sand moves from the east to the west and the jetties at Lake Montauk block all of the sand. So there's no beach to provide protection."

Susan Grimes, a partner in Keith Grimes Inc., a Bridgehampton contractor that specializes in shoreline work, said the company was working on Devito's house and several others after obtaining emergency permits from the state Department of Environmental Conservation last Monday.

She said waves washed over Devito's bulkhead, destroyed it and undermined the house, crumbling half the foundation. The firm brought in 19 dump trucks with fill Tuesday to stabilize the house so Davis Construction of Westhampton Beach could lift the house and deck with jacks and support it with cribbing Wednesday. A new foundation will be poured this week.

On Friday, Grimes employees were stabilizing the slope with 5-ton rocks so the company can drive in temporary steel bulkheading Monday. Devito will apply for a permit to build a more permanent steel bulkhead.

Nearby, Eugene and Joyce Racanelli, homeowners on Captain Kidd's Path for 26 years, surveyed the damage to their property: Where their deck used to stand is now a drop of about 30 feet to the beach. "It was never like this" before, Eugene Racanelli said.

Most of their seawall was demolished in a storm last February and they are replacing it now. Before the blizzard, the contractor already had placed 500 tons of rock and sand behind a nylon fabric to replace the eroded area from last winter at a cost of about $100,000. Eugene Racanelli said if the installation hadn't been there before the storm, the couple probably would have lost their house.

The shoreline damage in Montauk was not limited to the Sound side. The Royal Atlantic Hotel on the ocean beach lost some of its decks. The adjoining hotel, the Ocean Beach Hotel, lost sand under its decks, and some of its concrete cesspool rings are now exposed.

Steve Kalimnios, manager of the Royal Atlantic, said damage to the hotel totaled about $150,000 from the blizzard and from a rainstorm with high winds a month ago. He said the hotel would replenish the sand.

He said the hotel owners several years ago asked the East Hampton Town Board for permission to put steel sheeting along the beach and bury it with sand, but the idea went nowhere. He said now the owners, who have spent close to $1 million on sand replenishment in the past decade, plan to resubmit the idea to the town.

"I've been here for 30 years and it's steadily getting worse," he said.

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