Erosion is threatening to wipe away Southold’s main public beach by the spring, forcing officials to authorize emergency sand restoration, they said.
Southold Town Beach, located along the Long Island Sound off County Road 48, used to extend at least 100 more feet, officials said. Now the parking lot is only a few feet from the water at high tide, creating a surreal vista for many who use the popular beach.
“The beach is almost gone,” Supervisor Scott Russell said. “A couple more storms or winter weather could conceivably eliminate it, so it wouldn’t be viable for the public to use.”
Town officials plan to shore up the beach using sand dredged annually from Orient Point by the Cross Sound Ferry company. Although the sand is being offered for free, town officials estimate transporting it will cost about $60,000.
“This is a Band-Aid solution to get the town ready for the summer,” Russell said.
The project is a repeat of what the town had to do six years ago, when crews moved 6,400 cubic yards of sand to the public beach for $48,000. Little of that sand remains today.
“It just concerns me we’re going to throw money away and not get anything for it,” Southold Town Councilman James Dinizio said.
Re-nourishing sand is one of the only short-term ways to save beaches, but the sand often washes away, said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of the Farmingdale-based Citizens Campaign for the Environment.
“Our beaches are eroding quicker because of climate change and sea level rise,” Esposito said. “This is a clear example of the local impact of a global problem.”
In the mid-1900s, families used to congregate at the town beach to swim and eat at a beachside snack shack, officials said. That former shack location now is at least 50 feet into the Sound.
The beach appears to keep “moving out to sea,” said Kathy Wallace, a part-time Southold resident who walked along it last Thursday.
“I’m sad,” said Wallace, who also has a home in Commack. “I love the beach and I love walking it, and every time I go, half of it is gone.”
The town beach is not the only Southold area threatened by erosion. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers estimated in a 2016 study that $46 million of inventory — the value of homes, businesses and roads along the shore — is at risk of flooding and damage.
Dinizio said he worries the town could lose Route 48, one of two main roads in the North Fork. On windy days, the water has crept up to within 25 feet of the road at high tide. The erosion zone also includes 58 homes and four commercial structures.
“There’s a lot of people scrambling to save their homes,” Town Engineer James Richter said. “They’re picking up their homes and moving them back.”
A long-term solution will cost millions of dollars.
In an estimated $17.749 million project, the Army Corps proposed trucking in 160,000 cubic yards of sand to build up and widen about 1.5 miles of shoreline along the Hashamomuck Cove area. The area would be rebuilt over 50 years.
No date has yet been set for the start of that project, which, over the course of its lifetime, will use about $10.8 million from the federal government. The rest would be funded by a mix of state, county and town money.
“Running a town, it’s hard and expensive,” Russell said. “When you’re trying to manage Mother Nature, it’s never-ending and unwinnable.”