By Ellen Frankman
On the six-mile stretch of ocean beach between Water Mill and Sagaponack, a massive beach rebuild is slated to begin in the hopes of restoring the shoreline to its status of 30 years ago.
Last week, the Southampton Town Board voted unanimously to accept a bid for the Sagaponack and Bridgehampton Beach Erosion Control District Nourishment Project. The winning bid came in at just over $19 million and went to the Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Company of Illinois, a dredging company that has worked extensively on the East End of Long Island on projects like the Shinnecock Inlet and Westhampton Dunes restorations.
“The intent of the plan is to place dredge material taken from offshore sites in order to widen the beach,” said Marty Shea, chief environmental analyst for Southampton Town.
Though the beaches in Sagaponack, Bridgehampton and Water Mill have a long history of erosion, Shea says their condition has worsened significantly since Hurricane Sandy and the six nor’easters that followed this past winter and spring.
The shrinking beaches are a threat not only to the homes that dot the shoreline, but also to the wildlife that inhabits them, according to Shea. Piping plovers and least terns are both endangered species native to our coasts that have suffered from the impacts of their diminishing habitat.
“We had been working on the project for almost a year by the time Sandy hit,” said Aram Terchunian, whose coastal engineering company First Costal Corporation is handling much of the design, permitting and project supervision for the project. “It just underscored the vulnerability of the shoreline and that we need to do this right away.”
The project, which is largely privately funded, will increase the amount of sand on the beaches by more than 15 percent. Approximately 2.5 million cubic yards of sand will be drawn from designated “borrow areas” located one-mile offshore. The sand will then be pumped through pipes and spread along the six miles of beach. Because of the low bid price by Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Company, an additional 450,000 cubic yards of sand were added to the design without exceeding the $25 million price tag approved for the project.
“It is intended to widen the beach by about 90 feet and it is the equivalent of making up for 10 years of erosion,” said Terchunian.
The work is expected to last for an additional 10 years going forward.
“Renourishment of the beaches puts a significant amount of sand into the sand budget so that particularly during the summer months the natural processes will carry some of the sand higher up onto the beach,” said Shea. He also added that the wider the beach, the greater the likelihood that the dunes will recover. Dune restoration plans lie outside the project’s scope, but are also being pursued by the private property owners in erosion control districts who are already footing most of the bill for the beach rebuild.
According to Shea, the long term ecological impact of the project will be overwhelmingly positive, with only minimal damage in the short term specific to the marine environment from where the sand is dredged.
“In the short term there is a negative impact in terms of invertebrates and surf clams, but those impacts are minor,” said Shea, who explained the project is designed to shave sand off the sea floor in a lateral way that runs the length of the beaches in order to minimize impact. “Marine organisms will quickly recolonize that area.”
“If we don’t do something, the consequences will be pretty significant,” said Terchunian. “The shoreline has been degraded to the point where the beach is only 30 to 40 feet wide in the winter and the dunes themselves are only about half the size of what they used to be.”
But according to both Shea and Terchunian town board members and local residents are all highly supportive of the project as it currently stands.
Should everything proceed smoothly, the project is set to begin in early September.