From left: grasses and burlap netting were installed at the base...

From left: grasses and burlap netting were installed at the base of the Port Jefferson bluff overlooking Long Island Sound, shown May 18; the bluff, shown Feb. 20, after winter storms. Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas; James Carbone

Port Jefferson officials were optimistic last June when they announced completion of the first half of a $10 million effort to stem erosion at a cliff overlooking Long Island Sound that threatened to collapse a catering hall and tennis courts at the village-owned country club.

But the switchgrass, beachgrass and burlap netting installed in eight rows at the base of the 97-foot-high bluff proved to be no match for three winter storms in December and January. Strong winds, rain and snow hammered the bluff, drenching it with stormwater that broke through parts of the embankment, leaving two 70-foot-long gashes about 100 yards apart.  

“Everybody’s heartbroken," Mayor Lauren Sheprow said Tuesday as she viewed the damage. 

Recent storms have damaged the bluff, pictured last week, along East Beach...

Recent storms have damaged the bluff, pictured last week, along East Beach near the Port Jefferson Country Club. Credit: James Carbone

The Port Jefferson bluff was one of many Long Island locations devastated by treacherous weather in recent months. Officials across the Island were left scrambling for millions of dollars in state and federal funds to restore Fire Island beaches and dunes and replace playground equipment in Babylon. 


  • Three winter storms left two long gashes in a bluff beneath a catering hall and tennis courts at the village-owned Port Jefferson Country Club.
  • The storms came in the middle of a $10 million project to control bluff erosion.
  • The damage to the bluffs raises questions about the cost of protecting coastline areas from storms that are expected to become more frequent because of climate change.

The winter blasts and the damage they caused raised new questions about the cost of protecting coastline areas from storms that scientists say are expected to become more frequent and increasingly dangerous because of climate change and sea level rise. 

A 2022 aerial view shows the bluff has receded to...

A 2022 aerial view shows the bluff has receded to within a few feet of the tennis courts at the village-owned country club in Port Jefferson. Credit: GEI Consultants Inc. P.C.

In Port Jefferson, officials became alarmed about three years ago when aerial photos showed erosion had moved the edge of the bluff to within yards of the Port Jefferson Country Club's Waterview catering hall and nearby tennis courts. 

Officials launched a two-phase effort to protect the club — a former private estate purchased by the village for $2.9 million in 1978, when Sheprow's father, Harold Sheprow, was mayor. When completed, the project is expected to harden, or armor, the bluff for 35 years, the current mayor said. 

Officials are seeking a $3.75 million Federal Emergency Management Agency grant to partly recoup the $10 million the village borrowed to finance the project. 

A new sea wall was built at the base of...

A new sea wall was built at the base of the bluff supporting the Port Jefferson Country Club, which had been threatened by erosion. Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

In addition to plantings and webbing, the first phase included construction of a 240-foot-long concrete and steel wall at the bottom of the cliff to hold back storm surges from the Sound that could eat away at the bluff's base and eventually cause it to collapse. The wall survived the December and January storms, Lauren Sheprow said.

Second-phase work — including construction of a wall on top of the bluff that would divert stormwater away from the cliff — will start when the FEMA application is approved, officials said.

FEMA spokesman Thomas Song said Thursday the funds should be awarded in late spring or early summer.

Port Jefferson Mayor Lauren Sheprow at the base of the cliff...

Port Jefferson Mayor Lauren Sheprow at the base of the cliff on Long Island Sound where a recent winter storm tore a gash in the bluff at the village-owned country club. Credit: James Carbone

Sheprow said the village has received no estimate of the costs for restoring the damaged sections of the bluff, adding engineers must wait until spring to get a closer look at the damage. 

The damage reopened a yearslong debate among Port Jefferson residents who had objected two years ago when the village said it would not hold a referendum asking residents to approve the project. 

Myrna Gordon, 81, said she and some neighbors supported efforts to protect the club but are concerned about the project's cost, adding it's time for village officials to "let nature take its course and move everything back away from the bluff.”

“They’re thinking about it more with sentimentality than with logic,” said Gordon, a retired teacher, adding future storms likely will undo the work done by the village. “We think it is just a Band-Aid approach. ... I don’t think that’s what’s going to save that bluff at this point.”

Sheprow said the village has little choice but to fix the damage.

The Waterview brings in about $250,000 annually for the village's general fund, the mayor said, adding that demolishing the hall and tennis courts, or moving them to another part of the club, was not an option. Village officials previously estimated it would cost $6 million to demolish the facilities.

“We have a responsibility to protect our property,” Sheprow said. “A strategic retreat without really trying to preserve and protect the land to me, as a steward and protector of the land, that wasn’t the right thing to do.” 

The catering hall is leased by the village to TPG Hotels, Resorts & Marinas, the Cranston, Rhode Island-based hospitality giant that also manages Danfords Hotel Marina Spa in Port Jefferson. The lease expires in 2029, Sheprow said. 

Port Jefferson faces the same hard questions confronting communities from the Northeast to Alaska that are feeling the effects of climate change, said Chris Russoniello, an assistant professor at the University of Rhode Island's geological sciences department.

"It’s a question of when do you retreat and when do you armor. It really comes down to the values that you have and if it’s worth it, and how much money do you have,” Russoniello said. “I would expect that with sea level rise, that as the storms get bigger, we would expect to see more of these events.”

A reinforced bluff below Port Jefferson Country Club as seen on...

A reinforced bluff below Port Jefferson Country Club as seen on May 18. Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

Henry Bokuniewicz, a professor at Stony Brook University's School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, said retreating "doesn’t stop the erosion, it just lessens the threat.” He added that no solution is perfect, and communities must decide what assets and facilities they are willing to save — and what must be sacrificed.

“Planting the bluff surface helps. That’s a common technique. But once the vegetation either dies off or washes away, that runoff is just going to happen,” he said. “For beach erosion and bluff erosion, you have to pick your battles.”

Sheprow said Port Jefferson officials and their consultant, Huntington Station landscape architect Laura Schwanof, aren't sure how the latest damage occurred.

Schwanof said land above the bluff may have become "supersaturated" by rain water, causing water to seep into the ground before breaking through the side of the cliff.

The damage was "more likely not to have occurred” if the storms had happened after the project's completion, she said.

While waiting for answers, Sheprow said she tries not to become frustrated.

“I know no one wants for a project not to succeed," she said. "But we need a solution to this.”

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