A Nissequogue Village man is asking trustees to overrule a local board so he can replace a 500-foot bulkhead outside his beachfront mansion to slow erosion of that section of the Long Island Sound bluff.
“If nothing is done, there will be… additional erosion to the bluff,” said Glenn Gruder, a lawyer for homeowner George Wallis, at a June 27 village board hearing. Wallis owns businesses in Port Jefferson and caused a stir last year with an “In Trump We Trust” sign displayed over his ice cream shop there.
His request for a cantilevered steel wall sunk 25 feet into the bluff and extending 10 feet above ground enraged one neighbor at the hearing who called it a “steel monstrosity” and alarmed planners who said it was inconsistent with local environmental policies and could harm the area’s coast.
But it found favor with Nissequogue Mayor Rich Smith, who said he was heartened by a proposed relocation of the bulkhead 10 to 12 feet landward of the existing structure, a move that could afford better access to the public beach below.
Officials should balance public rights with a “property owner’s right to use his or her own property,” Smith said. He went on to criticize the land and water use plan that formed the basis of the planners’ objections as a “big Lucite box put over these two communities.” Nissequogue trustees adopted the plan, known as the Local Waterfront Revitalization Program, unanimously in 1990. “What it was, was a grab in private property rights,” Smith said.
About a dozen of Nissequogue’s 50 waterfront properties have bulkheads or some other kind of armoring to fight erosion that some experts say is accelerating due to rising sea levels.
Officials on the Joint Village Coastal Management Commission, which oversees the LWRP in Nissequogue and neighboring Head of the Harbor, found June 8 that the application was inconsistent with 10 environmental policies. Those policies prioritize solutions like soil stabilization through natural vegetation and assume that so-called “erosion protection structures” at one property can damage others nearby by starving them of eroded sand and reflecting wave energy.
They also assess risk differently than a homeowner might. “The residence is depicted as situated at least 175 feet from the top of the bluff and seems to be in no imminent danger from erosion of the bluff,” Commission Chairwoman Kaylee Engellenner wrote in a letter explaining the board’s findings.
She went on in that letter to call for a holistic approach to review of applications like Wallis’: “We must begin to evaluate the incremental hardening of Smithtown Bay as a proposed major action in the coastal area.”
While the DEC has already approved Wallis’ permit, other agencies including the New York State Department of State and Town of Smithtown may have oversight in the matter. Former town planner David Flynn wrote in May that the application relies on elevations of mean high and low water marks that appear to be incorrect.
Those measurements are important, because land below high water is public and falls under town jurisdiction, and some of both the existing and proposed structures at Wallis’ property appear to be below mean high water, he wrote.