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Sagaponack Board Mulls Over Beach Nourishment Project

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Sagaponack resident Gary Ireland and coastal geologist Aram Terchunian visited the Sagaponack Village Board on Monday to revisit an old issue of beach erosion. According to Ireland, over 45 years ago the Army Corps of Engineers attempted to protect the eastern beaches on Long Island by widening and lengthening the sand dunes, hoping to create a buffer against future natural disasters like the hurricane of 1938. Urged by beachfront property owners, the Army erected groins in East Hampton to keep the sand in place. Unfortunately, said Ireland, the groins caused erosion farther west along the shore in Sagaponack.
“The tide carries the sand [down the shore] like a river. If you put up groins, the sand builds up on one side and the sand is eroded on the other side. In Sagaponack, we are down drift from these incredibly large groins,” explained Ireland in a later interview.
Ireland’s family has witnessed the devastation of beach erosion first hand. His cousin’s home fell into the ocean in 1993. Ireland’s mother has twice moved her cottage further inland — and Ireland fears his own home, an unheated cottage built in 1938, will suffer the same fate.
On Monday, Ireland and Terchunian asked the board to consider once again creating a special taxing district, an Erosion Control District, to help levy funds for a beach nourishment project.
“I know the homeowners are discouraged [by the special district idea]. It is saddling the victims with the problem … but we have no other choice,” remarked Ireland.
The district would act as a non-federal sponsor of a beach nourishment project and would most likely share the costs with the county, state and federal government. This additional monetary support by higher levels of government is based on a strong desire at the local level for the project.
According to Ireland and Terchunian, the project would cost roughly $24 million or $1,600 per square foot of beachfront.

Appeal in Erosion Complaint

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An appeal has been filed for a Sagaponack erosion case by attorney Gary Ireland who is arguing that groins put in place in East Hampton are the cause of erosion of beaches to the west and is asking the county take responsibility for damage from erosion and removal of the groins.

Ireland, who is representing his mother Cynthia Ireland, filed the appeal in late September because he believes the implementation of groins in the Georgica area of East Hampton have caused his mother to move her house back twice due to beach erosion. The county also filed its own cross-appeal to the decision earlier this month.

The original decision was made on August 27 issued by U.S. Eastern District Court Judge Brian M. Cogan. His decision said that the county would not be responsible to pay for damage incurred by the Sagaponack homeowners or the removal of the groins. Further, this decision would not require the county to replenish beaches due to erosion said to be caused by the Georgica groins.

Ireland said that there is substantial evidence in his favor and that is why he filed an appeal.

“We have support from various environmental organizations to support our claim,” said Ireland. “We respectfully disagree with the judge.”

Ireland said the court ruling was based on the fact that erosion is a natural occurrence. But Ireland along with some experts, believe the groins have sped up this process. Bob DeLuca, President of Group for the East End, testified during the trial and said that he has been involved in coastal planning on the East End for 16 to 18 years and has seen a lot of erosion in the area west of the groins.

“The area to the east of the groins is stable, and that was the point of putting them there by the Army Corp of Engineers in the 1960s,” he said on Tuesday. 

Kevin McAllister of the Peconic Baykeeper, also argues that the groins have caused the erosion to happen at a faster rate. He said that the currents and winds move the sand from east to west and the jetties interfere with that movement.

During the trial, which was held last April, geologist and engineer, Dr. David Aubrey said that he believes the sand flows in both directions.

On Tuesday, Sagaponack Mayor Donald Louchheim said, “I think there is ample evidence that the Georgica groins have contributed to beach erosion in neighboring Sagaponack. I would like to see appeal and the groins removed.”