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Montauk motel's erosion control efforts are not permitted, state says

These motels in downtown Montauk face serious erosion

These motels in downtown Montauk face serious erosion issues this winter, after being battered by superstorm Sandy and then three other northeast storms. (Dec. 28, 2012) Credit: Doug Kuntz

State environmental officials have warned an oceanfront Montauk motel that the large concrete rings installed to reinforce its beach after superstorm Sandy and the November nor'easter eroded the dunes are not permitted under state law.

Proprietors of the Royal Atlantic Beach Resort Hotel in downtown Montauk installed about a dozen rings to form new dunes behind the motel on South Emerson Avenue. It was one of several efforts to restore and strengthen beaches in the historic East End community.

While beachfront business owners say they have to rebuild the shoreline every year after storms, Sandy's wide-ranging damage exposed foundations and made buildings even more vulnerable.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation issued a temporary general permit for motels to shore up their properties. But the Royal Atlantic's rings -- generally used for septic systems -- are outside the scope of that permit, DEC officials said last week.

"A warning letter was issued to the landowner on Jan. 11 due to work that was conducted beyond the scope of the general permit, including the placement of concrete rings on the beach prior to the placement of approved sand," DEC spokeswoman Aphrodite Montalvo said in a statement. "DEC is working with the landowner to bring the facility into compliance with the general permit while continuing to adequately protect the property."


Discussions with owner

The DEC is discussing remedies with the motel's owner, Steve Kalimnios, Montalvo said. Several calls to Kalimnios were not returned.

Oceanfront buildings throughout Montauk are feverishly trying to repair their properties and shorelines before the summer season.

The beaches in downtown Montauk lost about 75 yards of sand eroded by the two autumn storms, said East Hampton Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson. "That used to be a 100-yard deep beach and what you saw is now about 25 yards deep," he said. "The beach lowered by about two feet, the actual profile of that stretch."

During a recent visit, exposed foundations were still visible on several buildings, while bulldozers rumbled around the golden beaches.

Restoring a beach and protecting foundations is difficult and expensive, said Ed Van Syckle, manager of the Ocean Beach Co-ops on South Emerson Avenue.

Though the downtown beaches belong to the town, business owners are making the restorations without payments from insurers or government assistance. The town gave the owners permission to restore sand to the beaches. And owners hoped the concrete rings would reinforce the dune's structure.

"This is all property expenses," Van Syckle said as bulldozers shoveled sand against the bottoms of the beige Ocean Beach apartments and motel.

Van Syckle said 14,000 cubic yards of sand have been used to restore its beachline. He declined to provide the cost.

"FEMA is only single-family issues, so they don't deal with commercial properties," Van Syckle said, referring to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. "Insurance doesn't cover it."

The Army Corps of Engineers has restored beaches in New York City, but doesn't have authorization to work on Montauk's beaches.

"Our immediate authorization is only directly involved where we built the beach ourself, like the Far Rockaways and Coney Island," said Army Corps spokesman Chris Gardner.

As Montauk businesses put themselves back together, some have called for a re-examination of what should be built in vulnerable areas.


'Rethink our approach'

"If we're going to have a beach in downtown Montauk in five years or in 50 years, we need to completely rethink our approach to our shoreline," said Jeremy Samuelson, executive director of Concerned Citizens of Montauk. "To encourage someone to put only sand isn't working."

He advocated a multi-pronged approach, including building engineered beaches that are based on the original undeveloped coastline and better able to withstand storms.

"We cannot simply continue to build and develop and eradicate the shoreline and dunes in areas that simply should have never been built on in the first place, and may now be candidates for buyouts," he said.

But the current development may also help protect the core of Montauk's downtown, according to Gurney's Inn general manager Paul Monte. "The last line of defense is the motels," he said. "If those motels are gone, the whole downtown is [going to be] flooded because of the low elevation."

The financial impact of Montauk's tourism industry also needs to be considered, said Wilkinson, the town supervisor. Summer tourism brings in $118 million in motel revenue and $900 million in spending yearly, he said.

"Montauk converts from a little sleepy fishing town to well over 100,000 people in the summertime," Wilkinson said. "The number one attraction are the beaches and the waters that surround the beaches and the accommodations. It's critical that we look at Montauk a little differently than we look at other beach restorations that favor private residents."

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