A $24 million federal and state plan announced Tuesday aims to protect the Montauk Point Lighthouse from erosion by fortifying the nearby shoreline.
The structure, a national landmark and the first lighthouse built in New York State, sat 300 feet from the coast when it was built in 1796. Today, because of erosion, it is less than 100 feet from the ocean.
The project, announced by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, calls for enlarging the coastal rock wall, also known as a revetment, which deflects wave energy and protects the bluff. Work on the plan, crafted through agreements with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Montauk Historical Society, which owns the lighthouse property, could begin in December, the governor said.
“Generations of visitors have experienced the culture and beauty of Montauk Point, and New York is committed to ensuring this historic landmark remains a sought-after attraction on Long Island for decades to come,” Cuomo said in a statement.
Severe storms have shifted rocks as heavy as 12 tons and deteriorated the wall, according to Gregory Donohue, a historical society board member and the erosion control director for the lighthouse.
The rock wall “is still viable and healthy; however, some of the slope angles were not engineered properly,” he said, adding that it would have been a matter of time before the structure was no longer effective. “This is going to keep this building here for 100 years. This is a phenomenal success story.”
Designs for the project are expected to be completed soon and work is estimated to take 18 months, according to the governor. The state Department of Environmental Conservation will cover 35 percent of the cost and the federal government will fund the rest.
Construction is expected to cost $20.5 million, with engineering and design budgeted at $1.5 million, and construction supervision and management are anticipated to cost $1.9 million, according to a DEC spokeswoman. New stone will be installed on top of existing stone to reinforce the bluff, as well as level areas for walking and fishing.
Not everyone agrees that armoring the shoreline is the best way to protect the lighthouse, however. Representatives of the Eastern Long Island chapter of the Surfrider Foundation have advocated instead for relocating the 222-year-old structure inland, a strategy successfully accomplished with lighthouses at Cape Hatteras in North Carolina and on Nantucket in Massachusetts. Chapter chairman Andrew Brosnan said expanding the rock wall raises environmental concerns and could affect nearby surf breaks.
As to other areas in the region vulnerable to erosion, East Hampton Town began work earlier this month on a $1.05 million beach replenishment project to rebuild an artificial dune constructed by the Army Corps that was decimated by the nor’easters. And consultants working with the town have advocated for a strategic retreat inland for some oceanfront businesses in Montauk’s downtown corridor.