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Nissequogue resident wants village OK to stop bluffs’ erosion

Workers shore up an area near Bluff Road

Workers shore up an area near Bluff Road on Friday, April 21, 2017. A Nissequogue Village woman who owns two homes on eroding bluffs above the Long Island Sound is asking trustees to overrule a local board that prevented her from building rock walls at the toe of the bluff. Credit: Ed Betz

A Nissequogue Village woman who owns two homes on eroding bluffs above Long Island Sound will ask trustees to overrule a local board that prevented her from building rock walls to slow the loss of her land.

Public hearings are scheduled May 16 at Village Hall for Sharron MacDonald, who with her husband, Peter, paid $1.2 million for 4 Bluff Rd. in 2009 and $6.6 million for 5 Fox Point Dr. in 2015. The walls, composed of 2.5-ton boulders, sand and plastic webbing, would run for 800 feet at the toe of the bluffs and cost about $1,000 per foot, including accompanying planting and terracing.

The Joint Coastal Management Commission, a volunteer board of Nissequogue and Head of the Harbor residents that oversees development on the waterfront for the two villages, warned in letters last week that the walls would violate decades-old preservation policies, wouldn’t guarantee a long-term solution to erosion and could worsen erosion elsewhere.

“Before the entire coastline in this area is either proactively or defensively hardened, a study should be undertaken as to its potential deleterious effects,” commission chairwoman Kaylee Engellenner said in the letters.

The board’s waterfront policies favor solutions like planting vegetation or even moving inland structures that are in imminent danger from erosion, as singer Paul Simon is doing with his Montauk cottage, which was about 20 feet from the bluffs there.

Most of the homes on the Nissequogue bluffs are much farther landward than that.

Allen Glenn Bernhard, an engineer for MacDonald who has designed other erosion control walls in the area, said those measures were insufficient or impractical in Nissequogue. “These are massive houses,” he said, and the owners “want to protect their property just like anyone would want to.”

Three of MacDonald’s neighbors have built or are building rock walls of their own, with several more expected to begin applications soon.

The commission found that the plans were inconsistent with the waterfront policies that the villages share, but trustees overruled it last year.

Those three projects also required New York State approval. In at least one case, the New York State Department of State sided with the commission, but that finding was nonbinding. The Department of Environmental Conservation ultimately approved all of the projects, as it has for MacDonald’s.

“The DEC’s number one priority is protecting natural resources, but we balance that with consideration for people’s properties,” DEC regional director Carrie Meek Gallagher said in an interview.

In interviews, experts have warned that walls could interrupt the natural flow of sediment that replenishes some areas and depletes others, threatening the area’s coast.

Gallagher disputed that, as did Nissequogue Mayor Rich Smith. “Protection of our property is paramount,” he said at a recent village board meeting.

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