Waves from the Atlantic Ocean wash toward a dune line...

Waves from the Atlantic Ocean wash toward a dune line in Montauk in a 2012 photo. Credit: Gordon M. Grant

The Suffolk Legislature Tuesday approved a pact with East Hampton Town that permits the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to move forward with an $8.9 million dune project to protect downtown Montauk that critics say is flawed.

The lawmakers voted 17-1 for an intermunicipal pact in which the county and town would split the cost of maintaining a 3,100-foot-long stretch of beach after the Army Corps finishes building up the dune to 13 to 15 feet high, using interconnected geotextile bags filled with sand as a base.

Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell, appearing before lawmakers, said the project provides interim protection for Montauk's low-lying downtown, which generates millions in tourist-related sales tax revenue for the county. The cost of maintaining the dunes is estimated at $80,000 to $150,000 a year.

"The downtown is in a precarious situation," said Legis. Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk). "We're one storm away from being washed out to sea."

But Legis. Alfred Krupski (D-Southold) warned that the county could face years of high maintenance costs, and the sandbagging will only harden the dunes, making nearby shore areas more susceptible to serious erosion.

"The $80,000 figure for maintenance is a figment of the Corps' imagination," he said. "You could be looking at millions. There is no end to this project."

Lawmakers later deadlocked 9-9, defeating Democratic Legis. Kara Hahn's controversial measure to require county lifeguards to wear sunscreen and protective gear while at work.

Critics called the rules needless and questioned how they could be enforced. "I'm not their mother," said Legis. Kate Browning (WFP-Shirley) who opposed the bill.

Legis. Thomas Barraga (R-West Islip) backed the measure as "very positive," noting that many lifeguards "between the ages of 15 and 25 think they're immortal."

The legislature also:

Unanimously approved the final transition of 35 county park police officers into the county police department. Union officials said that the officers will enter the police department at annual salaries ranging from $50,000 to $68,000.

Tabled a resolution that eliminates $70 million in "pipeline debt" -- money that has been appropriated but not spent. Environmentalists want to restore $30 million for two land-preservation programs slated to be axed. Presiding Officer DuWayne Greogry said he expects action Oct. 18 after further discussions with critics.

Approved $2.3 million for road and drainage work for the Ronkonkoma Hub project, even though several GOP lawmakers complained that all the money was going to Brookhaven and none to Islip. Bellone administration officials vowed to hold further discussions with Islip about their needs connected to the project.

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