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Nissequogue proposes inspections of erosion projects

Nissequogue Village is proposing regular inspections of erosion

Nissequogue Village is proposing regular inspections of erosion control projects along the Long Island Sound.  Credit: Google Maps

A Nissequogue Village bill would require regular inspections of work on erosion control structures such as bulkheads and revetments that are common on the village’s Long Island Sound properties.

The bill would require applicants to survey the project site at the start and finish of work and send an engineer or designer to the site at various stages, submitting inspection reports to village officials. The applicant would have to show the impact of the work on neighboring properties and “demonstrate continuity” between the work and work already done on neighboring properties. Following construction, the applicant would have to demonstrate each year a long-term maintenance program for the erosion control structure.

Violators could incur a $250 per day fine and be ordered to undo unpermitted work — a potentially severe penalty for projects whose cost can reach hundreds of thousands of dollars.

“It is a complicated and risky endeavor to try and build things on the bluff and we want to ensure, to the extent possible, that what gets built is going to do its job in terms of erosion control,” said Kaylee Engellener, chairwoman of the Joint Coastal Commission, a local waterfront planning board.

The bill, scheduled for an Aug. 20 public hearing, would cover new construction, rebuilding and modification of the structures. It follows several cases of what officials said was improper construction on or near the village’s Long Island Sound bluffs. In 2017, the state ordered owners of two homes there to pay a combined $80,000 in penalties for violations that included using brick and concrete instead of clean sand as backfill for an erosion control structure, building an unauthorized staircase on the bluffs and building a sea wall that encroached on public beach.

Nissequogue’s waterfront is fraught territory, geologically and jurisdictionally. Real estate there is among the most valuable in Smithtown, but the steep bluffs along the village’s section of the North Shore are subject to constant erosion, eating away backyards and, some homeowners say, threatening pools and homes. Some neighbors and environmentalists say that impeding erosion or building structures that reflect wave energy back into the Sound harms the coastline overall.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the Joint Coastal Commission and the village board of trustees are among the government bodies with regulatory oversight of the construction projects there.

Peter Scott, a village resident who lives above the bluffs and protects his property with a revetment, said the bill appeared to be shifting burdens from the DEC and village building inspector to the applicant. Added reporting duties could add thousands or tens of thousands of dollars to the cost of construction or rebuilding an erosion control structure, he said.

The projects are not optional for homeowners like him, he said. “If we’re not allowed to protect our property, it’s just going to wash away.”

Nissequogue Mayor Richard Smith said Scott was correct that the bill would shift responsibility to the applicant. “I think the cost and responsibility should be borne by the applicant, not collectively by village residents” through the work of the village building inspector and engineer, he said.

Smith said he expected to see more applications “as more and more waterfront property owners look to protect their property, particularly with the serious winter storms we’ve been experiencing.” His administration generally supports those applications, “but it’s got to be done with proper oversight, and that’s what this legislation is looking to accomplish,” he said.

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