Sag Harbor Village Takes a Closer Look at Erosion on West Water Street

Posted on 13 July 2011

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Sag Harbor Village Harbor Committee Chairman Bruce Tait and village environmental planning consultant Rich Warren examine the effects of erosion on West Water Street Monday evening.

Photographs taken in 2009 of the village owned waterfront on West Water Street in Sag Harbor show a healthy beachfront bordered by grasses and a few trees before the landscape meets the roadway.

But pictures taken at the same location two years later show a wide beachfront with sections of small bluffs that protect the roadway from the water fallen in large clumps. Orange cones protect pedestrians and drivers along entire lengths of the beach where erosion goes to the base of the road. In one spot, a tree’s roots are almost entirely exposed on one side to the elements.

And this was the second winter in a row that this happened.

For two years, the Village of Sag Harbor Board of Trustees has been monitoring the erosion at the beachfront directly across from the now stalled West Water Street condominium project. The erosion is largely attributed to heavy snowfall and storms that slowly picked away at the waterfront, presenting the possibility that the septic and electric lines underneath West Water Street could eventually be compromised by the deterioration, let alone the roadway.

The Sag Harbor Village Department of Public Works has instituted stopgap measures each winter, dumping snow and even rocks on that section of beach — at the ire of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC). The NYSDEC issued the village notices of violation last year for installing those temporary fixes on the waterfront. Last month Sag Harbor Village Environmental Planning Consultant Rich Warren announced formal plans to construct a bulkhead on the property to prevent any long term damage to the roadway.

The proposal, which is still awaiting approval from the DEC as well as the Sag Harbor Village Harbor Committee, entails constructing a 568-foot vinyl bulkhead along the length of the waterfront.

In addition to the bulkhead, five 4 x 4 foot platforms with stairs are proposed. These would provide access to the beach, which also has a number of village dock spaces that are accessed through a cable-tie pulley system. That system is un-operational without users standing on the beach.

According to a report filed with the village by Warren’s firm, Inter-Science Research Associates, the current stairways to the beach are so few, there is evidence that people are gaining entry to that section of beach by climbing down steep slopes of dune, which is causing even more damage to the area.

On Monday night, Warren presented the concept to the Harbor Committee, which is being asked to weigh in on the matter immediately while the project awaits approval from the NYSDEC as well as funding from the Village Board of Trustees, which Warren noted have pushed for the plan’s completion.

Warren said the issue was not a new one, and in 2006 the village board attempted to protect the area with gabions. These are essentially stones held in place by a metal wire cage, but the idea shot down by the NYSDEC, which no longer views that a viable method of shoreline hardening.

According to Warren’s memo, the department is probably not wrong, at least in this instance.

The gabions, he says, would eventually erode after being washed in the salt water of Outer Sag Harbor Cove for several years, and if people tried to scale the structures down to the beach they could be injured. They could also imperil boaters trying to access their crafts off the cable-tie pulley system, and high velocity waters, which have wracked the area in recent winters, can also damage those structures.

The only other alternative to the bulkhead is not doing anything to the waterfront, which Warren states would eventually lead to the roadway collapsing into the beach over the course of several more years.

After the village was cited by the NYSDEC for trying to shore up the beach with rocks, it met with the agency and enlisted Warren and Hampton Bays engineer Steve Maresca to draw up plans for a long term solution.

Warren said in addition to the bulkhead, the plan has been conceived to allow for the future construction of a walkway over the beach, similar to Marine Park so should the waterfront erode over time there is still access to the dock space.

“I think it is a good plan,” said Harbor Committee Chairman Bruce Tait. “It works to solve the problem down there.”

While the committee as a whole appeared supportive of the concept, Tait and the board agreed to review the plan and formally review its consistency to the village’s Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan (LWRP) at next month’s August 8 meeting.

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