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Cars, septic tanks surface on Southampton's storm-battered Flying Point Beach

A recent storm accompanied by high tides revealed

A recent storm accompanied by high tides revealed several cars buried in the 1960s in the sand along Water Mill Beach to help combat erosion. Empty septic tanks at the base of a private bulkhead were also revealed. Credit: Fred Havemeyer

A storm-battered beach on eastern Long Island is coughing up its secrets, revealing would-be classic cars buried in the early 1960s and septic tanks that Long Islanders had hoped would hold back the ocean.

About a dozen cars of various makes and models were exposed on Southampton's Flying Point Beach last weekend after a three-day nor'easter coupled with unusually high tides.

The cars had been placed in front of the former Water Mill Beach Club by homeowners as an erosion control measure in the early 1960s, according to Southampton Town Trustee Fred Havemeyer.

"If somebody's looking for parts for an old Ford, they're down there," Havemeyer said. "It's like a boneyard."

He also said that seven or eight empty septic tanks had been uncovered from the base of a private bulkhead to the east.

"Going back over the years, if it was an emergency, they'd drop whatever was handy or economical," Havemeyer said. "It's like a glacier melting. You find out what's underneath."

Southampton resident Charlie Corwith, 64, said that when he was in high school he watched a crane drop cars in front of the dunes as a hurricane approached Long Island in the 1960s.

The vehicles came from local junkyards, he said.

"Some still have good chrome on them," said Corwith, owner of Corwith's Auto Body in Water Mill. "That's when they used real nickel chrome, and it lasted."

He said a second batch of cars was dropped on the beach in Southampton during the 1970s as wave breaks.

To Havemeyer and others, the cars' exposure demonstrates the dangers of steel bulkheads, which might protect nearby properties but end up endangering other stretches of the beach.

The cars popped up directly to the west of a private bulkhead. There were full dashboards and other parts from the old cars exposed.

When the cars were laid bare, town officials considered removing them, since the vehicles' jagged corners and sharp edges could pose a safety hazard. But by late last week, sand had covered most of them again, with only bits and pieces -- a deflated tire, a rusty axle, the top of a steering wheel -- poking out.

Trustee president Eric Shultz said officials will wait to see whether the sand fully engulfs the cars again, noting that it would be too expensive to remove the almost fully buried shells now.

Most of the Southampton beaches have weathered the harsh storm season just fine, with ample sand in most places, in time for the summer tourist season. But, he warned, the bulkheads pose a long-term planning problem.

Shultz has called for a summit of state, town and village officials to come up with a unified plan for beachfront development and bulkheads. Last week, village officials heard a presentation on erosion and how bulkheads can be useful from First Coastal Corp., a Westhampton Beach-based environmental consulting and contracting firm.

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