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Homeowners OK tax hikes for beach erosion repair

Houses in Southampton Town, just west of Town

Houses in Southampton Town, just west of Town Line Road, are being threatened after the beach front suffered serious erosion over the past week, a consequence of superstorm Sandy. Credit: Doug Kuntz

It takes some very special sand to reverse 25 years of erosion and build up oceanfront beaches that have, on average, lost 125,000 cubic yards of sand a year for the past 20 years.

And the quality of that sand was important Saturday when oceanfront homeowners in two special erosion control districts in Southampton Town voted to boost their own taxes by tens of thousands of dollars a year for the next decade. That will raise $26.5 million needed to pump more than 2 million cubic yards of sand onto 6 miles of beach in Bridgehampton and Sagaponack.

Much of that sand will be placed below the surface of the water, and all of it will come from more than a mile offshore. That makes the self-funded project, which will begin later this year and take three or four months to complete, more costly.

The vote in Sagaponack was 32-24, and 43-25 in Bridgehampton.

The repair requires permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and three New York State agencies: the Department of Environmental Conservation, the Office of General Services and the Coastal Management Program.

While the Corps is still reviewing the application, an agency spokesman said the sand would be pumped from a site already approved for that purpose.

The sand grains for the project can't be too big or too small, and the sand on the beach has to be the right shape and texture and has to feel right underfoot.

The right color is nice aesthetically but how tightly the grains adhere to each other when wind or water try to push sand away is more important. That adherence is determined by the grains' shape.

Sand isn't round, but under a microscope shows jagged edges and planes that are partly worn after centuries of being rolled in the ocean.

"Too fine, and the wind will blow it away. Too coarse and people don't like it," said Aram Terchunian, a coastal geologist and environmental consultant from Westhampton Beach. "It should closely match the natural beach sand."

Precisely the right kind of sand was found on the ocean bottom 1.25 miles off Bridgehampton, sand that will not only create a new beach, but stay in place for a decade or longer. Officials say the sand is deep enough and far enough offshore that it will not create new erosion problems when removed.

The sand grains are just slightly larger than those now on the beach, which Terchunian said was "just perfect" for the rebuilding and widening project.

While the more than 150 property owners in the two erosion control districts will see another 100 feet or so of beach, most of the work will involve placing sand underwater, changing the slope of the shoreline and changing the way storm-pushed waves strike and erode the beach.

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