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Suffolk lawmaker wants to revisit plan to fix Montauk beach

Legislator Al Krupski speaks during a public hearing

Legislator Al Krupski speaks during a public hearing at the Suffolk County Legislature in Smithtown on Tuesday, July 29, 2014. Credit: Barry Sloan

A Suffolk legislator has asked his colleagues to rethink their financial support of a beach-fortification project planned this year in Montauk after a storm that he said exposed the fragility of the shoreline.

A Dec. 9 and 10 nor'easter scoured the ocean beach where the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is preparing to bury thousands of large sand-filled geotextile bags that can weigh as much as 1.7 tons when filled. The storm forced engineers to alter and delay the project, now expected to begin in late winter or early spring.

Legis. Al Krupski, an early critic of the plan, said in a letter to Suffolk officials last week that the setback shows the county's commitment to help maintain the 3,100-foot beach after the project is complete could cost taxpayers more than projected.

Krupski (D-Cutchogue) was the lone dissenter among Suffolk lawmakers when they voted in October to split maintenance costs estimated at $150,000 a year with East Hampton Town. In his Dec. 29 letter, he said a "typical" storm, such as the recent nor'easter, could cost the county millions of dollars.

"To me, it's obvious what's going to happen there, and the county should not be encouraging this sort of project," Krupski said in a phone interview last week. "We know better."

Army Corps spokesman Chris Gardner said by email last week that even in the unlikely event that a storm washed away all the sand covering the bags, repairs wouldn't exceed $1 million.

Krupski also objects to the project for environmental reasons, saying the wall of buried bags amounts to "shoreline hardening" thought to worsen erosion by reflecting, rather than absorbing, the force of waves.

"There's no other way to look at it," Krupski said. "When you harden the shoreline, you're going to lose your beach elevation, and you lose public access because of it."

Gardner said at least 3 feet of sand on the bags would cause them to function like a natural dune.

"As long as the sand dune remains a sand dune, any concerns regarding 'shoreline hardening' should be alleviated," he said. "That is a large part of why the project was designed the way that it was and why the maintenance requirements are an integral part of the project."

The Army Corps previously said the federally funded installation of about 14,000 bags would cost $8.9 million, but officials are re-evaluating their designs in the wake of the December storm.

The Montauk beach, home to several hotels, sustained years of erosion that superstorm Sandy worsened in October 2012. The Army Corps proposed the beach-fortification project to protect downtown Montauk while engineers prepare the broader Fire Island-to-Montauk Point flood-protection plan, or FIMP, which will span 83 miles of Long Island's South Shore.

Legis. Jay Schneiderman (I-Montauk) said he would continue to support the Montauk project, though he shares some environmental concerns.

"Montauk is in a very precarious situation, where it's really just one minor storm away from losing downtown," he said. "Something has to be done."

Schneiderman said he supports the use of geotextile bags -- made of a durable synthetic fiber and as much as 20 feet long -- on an emergency basis, but they should be removed within three years, once a long-term beach-renourishment plan is underway.

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