The Southampton Town Board has unanimously approved a massive beach re-nourishment project, extending from Sagaponack to Water Mill. The $26 million project, aimed at widening beaches hit hard by erosion — a problem only further exacerbated by Hurricane Sandy — will be paid for largely by residents in the Bridgehampton and Sagaponack erosion control districts, should those residents approve the proposal via a referendum some time in the next two to three months.
On Tuesday night, the Southampton Town Board held its sixth public hearing on the project, which will only impact the stretch of beach from Flying Point Road off Mecox Bay in Water Mill to Town Line Road in Sagaponack. Those erosion control districts were established in 2010 at the request of residents seeking a substantive way to deal with coastal erosion.
While the project was proposed earlier this year, town officials put it on hiatus until next spring. On Tuesday night, Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said the landfall of Hurricane Sandy and the damage inflicted to beaches in Bridgehampton and Sagaponack cast this project in a whole new light.
“Needless to say, this project took on a level of urgency,” said Throne-Holst, who added it was for that very reason the town board would not delay further in taking action on the proposal after the public hearing.
The project involves dredging 2.5 million tons of sand from two dredging windows offshore. According to Throne-Holst, it is expected to add 60 to 70 feet of beachfront.
“It will bring the beaches back to make them look like they did 20 to 30 years ago,” she said on Tuesday night.
The residents of both taxing districts, 125 property owners, will pay for the lion’s share of the cost of the project and have also agreed to cover half – $1.5 million – of the town’s portion of the cost. The town was originally expected to pay around $3 million for the five public town beaches to be included in this regional beach-widening project. According to Throne-Holst, the remaining $1.5 million the town will pay, if the project is approved by voters, will come out of a special park district fund meaning it will have a zero-impact on taxpayers outside of the erosion control districts.
If the project is approved in the referendum, which will be administered by the Suffolk County Board of Elections, the town will bond for the project and be paid back over a 10 year period through a special tax levy only applied to erosion control district property owners in Sagaponack and Bridgehampton.
The town is seeking legislation on the state level to allow the town home rule to exempt two property owners who have conservation easements on their land from being subject to having to pay into the erosion control district’s tax levy.
On Tuesday night, New York State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele, Jr. said he expected to introduce a local law next week to exempt the two properties that will be heard when the New York State Legislature reconvenes in the New Year. Thiele said because this was a local bill, with local support, and would not impact New York State as a whole, he hoped to have the bill on Governor Andrew Cuomo’s desk before February.
Southampton Town Chief Environmental Analyst Marty Shea said the project will also require New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and U.S. Army Corp of Engineer approval, but he was optimistic that would not be an issue.
Shea said after Sandy it was clear that wider beaches fared substantially better. Homeowners replenishing dune lines, said Shea, were to be commended, but on a narrow beach, he said, the impact simply did not last.
“Certainly speaking to people out there in the community, there seems to be tremendous support for this project,” said Shea. “One of the benefits of this project is the beach re-nourishment is happening in a regional manner, in a coordinated way.”
Southampton planner Rich Warren, who also serves as Sag Harbor Village’s planning consultant, agreed.
As a planning consultant on the South Fork for over two decades, Warren said he has witnessed the impact of beach erosion first hand, even watching as a house at the end of Potato Road in Sagaponack literally fell into the ocean.
Showing a slideshow of homes in the erosion control district with entire dunes swept away, exposing foundations, Warren said beach widening was something the town board should approve.
“You have sanitary systems sitting on the beach,” he said.