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East Beach

Further destruction of terracing and plantings on the East Beach bluff after recent rainstorms. Photo by Lynn Hallarman

Recent setbacks in East Beach bluff stabilization project have officials and residents on edge 

By Lynn Hallarman

East Beach is a village-owned strip of sandy shoreline situated between the northern front of the Long Island Sound and the base or toe of a steeply set bluff, roughly 100 feet high.

A jetty opens into Mount Sinai Harbor eastward of the bluff. To the west, the shore stretches past a series of private properties, then past the village of Belle Terre, and finally curves inward, reconfiguring as Port Jefferson Harbor. 

For decades, the village-owned Port Jefferson Country Club, perched near the crest of the bluff, was invisible to beachgoers below, shielded by a thick tangle of greenery clinging to the bluff’s north front. 

But in recent years, a series of intense rainstorms, combined with sea rise and pressures from human-made alterations in the landscape above the bluff, have set in motion deforestation and scouring, denuding the bluff of vegetation and accelerating erosion in the direction of the country club’s foundation. The club has become precariously close to the bluff’s edge. Without a plan, there was no doubt it would slide down the bluff onto the shoreline below within a few years. 

To make matters worse, the bluff stabilization project, whose aim is to stabilize the position of the club, has been beset with complications in the wake of a series of recent storms unraveling costly work completed just last summer as part of Phase I of the project.

As communities across Long Island are confronting relentless coastal erosion, TBR News Media focuses on the obstacles facing the bluff stabilization project at East Beach, exploring the complexities, costs and alternative solutions to rescuing the country club.

The big picture

Bluffs change naturally over time, feeding sand to the beach and replenishing the shoreline. They respond to the force of winds, waves and tides, creating new states of equilibrium with the beach below and the landscapes above. The Long Island shoreline has been reshaping for thousands of years, sometimes imperceptibly and sometimes in dramatic fits of landslip that is, chunks of shoreline abruptly falling into the sea. 

East Beach and its bluff are inseparable from the adjacent coastline they move as the coastline moves. When humans make changes in the shorelines by adding bulkheads, jetties and other rigid structures, the effects resonate laterally, affecting the movement of sand and ocean from beach to beach along the shoreline. 

“Port Jefferson’s experience with bluff restoration is a microcosm of what has been happening all over Long Island,” said Chuck Hamilton, a marine biologist and former regional natural resource supervisor for the state Department of Environmental Conservation for some 33 years.

“For a long time, farmers on Long Island had their farms right on top of the bluff, and shoreline erosion happened naturally,” he said. But now those same areas are being subdivided and developed, adding weight and impermeable surfaces abutting the shoreline. “And guess what? Now we need to stabilize.”

For decades, Port Jefferson Country Club was invisible to the beachgoers, shielded by a thick tangle of greenery clinging to the bluff. Undated photo courtesy Port Jeff historian Chris Ryon

The project

When Port Jefferson’s mayor, Lauren Sheprow, took office in July 2023, the bluff stabilization project was already in motion. Sheprow, a former public relations professional, had campaigned on a platform of two core values: financial transparency and safeguarding of village assets. However, the realities of rescuing the country club purchased in 1978 when her father, Harold Sheprow, was village mayor while keeping project costs under control have proven to be complex and demanding. 

Most of Phase I of the project happened before the current mayor took office. This work included the installation of a 454-foot rigid wall at the base, terracing and native grass plantings on the bluff face. With Phase II now under her purview, Sheprow believes it is her responsibility to see the project to completion: the installation of a wall system along the bluff’s crest, directly seaward of the imperiled country club. 

“I swore to protect and preserve the property owned by the Village of Port Jefferson, and therefore the residents. Preserving and protecting is not ignoring an erosion issue,” the mayor said.

Phase I, costing approximately $5 million, relied on local taxpayer dollars financed through a bond repayable over time. Phase II, estimated at $4.8 million, will be financed mostly by federal taxpayer dollars by a FEMA grant of $3.75 million.  

Financing the endeavor has been rife with holdups and stymied by a six-year-long permitting process. It has been almost a year since Phase I was completed. Final signoffs related to the FEMA funding for Phase II are still pending, preventing the village from seeking bids for construction of the upper wall. However, the village treasurer, Stephen Gaffga, said he hopes to see the signoffs come through this month. 

By many accounts, questions about the project’s funding have rankled residents for years. The prevailing sentiment is that the village pushed through a $10 million bond for the stabilization project (phases I and II combined) without a community vote through a bond resolution. 

“When I am asked about my position about the bluff restoration, I never saw the arguments on all sides of the project flushed out,” said Ana Hozyainova, president of Port Jefferson Civic Association. “Village officials took the position from the beginning that the building must be saved, no matter what. That imperative has limited the discussions about options.”

Complications

The uncertainty surrounding the cost and timing of needed repairs because of winter storm damage to the bluff faces further complications in Phase II. “Negotiations are ongoing” between the village and the contractor about who is responsible for absorbing these additional expenses, Gaffga said. 

Drainage issues at the bluff’s crest are also hampering progress, and likely contributed to the recent collapse of the newly-installed terracing along the western part of the bluff, below the tennis courts. “There are huge puddles sitting at the crest, after heavy [recent] rainstorms,” Sheprow said. The strategy and cost related to addressing the drainage issues have not yet been determined, she added. 

Although the project was divided into two phases because of funding constraints, “its ultimate success,” according to Laura Schwanof, senior ecologist at GEI Consultants of Huntington Station, “hinges on both walls working together to curtail erosion and prevent the club slipping down the slope.” 

GEI has been involved with village erosion mitigation projects since 2009. The two-wall system for the bluff stabilization was their design. “The problem with this project is protection number two the upper wall has not been installed,” Schwanof said. When asked how long the wall system might hold up, she couldn’t say. 

“What does happen, and has been seen across the Northeast, is that as we get more frequent storms, higher wave energy, higher rainfall events, rigid wall structures may work in the short term. But if you look 50 years down the road, they may not be as effective,” she said. 

“Hard erosion protection structures such as revetments or bulkheads can be costly, only partially effective over time and may even deflect wave energy onto adjacent properties.” Jeff Wernick, a DEC representative, wrote in an email. The DEC, he said, permitted the East Beach project based solely on “the immediate threat to significant infrastructure.” 

Completion of Phase I in spring 2023, before winter storms unravel work on the bluff face.
Photo from the PJ Village website

Retreat?

 When Steve Englebright, 5th District county legislator (D-Setauket) and geologist, was asked about the stabilization project, he started with a lesson about glacial formations dating back 17,000 years. Englebright scrutinized photographs of the bluff during an interview with TBR News conducted after the recent storms. 

“When the bluff, which is partially made of clay, is overweighted it behaves like squeezed toothpaste,” he said. “You can see toothpaste-like extrusions on the beach.”

Missing from the conversation, according to Englebright, is a reckoning of what is happening along the entire Long Island coast. “People don’t understand the overall dynamics,” he said. “That’s why I’m trying to give you the big picture that the entire North Shore is unstable.”

“Trying to defend a single property is human folly,” he added. “You can buy some time, but how much are we paying? I don’t believe it’s realistic because you can’t stop the overall dynamic. The village should celebrate the fact that they have the ability to retreat and use that ability. Right? The bind is if you don’t have land, but they have the land. Strategically retreat, rebuild the building.”

Stan Loucks, a village trustee and a former country club liaison, was asked to put together a retreat plan by former Mayor Margot Garant confirmed by her to TBR News. “I did a plan A proceed with the restoration project or plan B, retreat about three years ago,” Loucks said. “I got prices for the demolition of the country club, moving the tennis courts and an architectural rendering of a new club further inland.” 

“The drawings had a huge deck on this side overlooking the Sound, and the huge deck on this side overlooking the golf course. I would have loved to take that plan to the end,” he added. 

Loucks’s retreat plan was never vetted publicly. Sheprow told TBR she never saw a retreat plan. 

Loucks remembers when tennis court No. 5 went in a landslide a few years ago. “It was massive and happened overnight,” he said. “And the slide took the gazebo, too.”

The fate of the clubhouse at Port Jeff Country Club is uncertain. Photo courtesy of Port Jefferson Village

Debate around the future of the Port Jefferson Country Club intensified on Monday, April 4, when longtime local residents confronted the Village of Port Jefferson Board of Trustees during a public session.

Myrna Gordon and Michael Mart both condemned the board for moving ahead with plans to curb coastal erosion at East Beach without first holding a public forum, arguing that an issue of this magnitude requires greater public input. “The bluff touches every resident … and there should be a public forum for this,” Mart said. Gordon added, “This is an important issue in this village … and on this particular issue, the ball was dropped.”

Responding to these charges, Mayor Margot Garant said the bluff projects are time sensitive, requiring prompt action on behalf of the village before its permits expire.

“This is an area regulated by the Army Corps of Engineers and the [Department of Environmental Conservation],” Garant said. “The window of opportunity is closing because our permits are not going to be there forever.”

History of the country club

Philip Griffith, historian of PJCC and co-editor of Port Jefferson historical society’s newsletter, chronicled the history of the country club since 1908. According to Griffith, the club originated as a nine-hole golf course designed for the residents of Belle Terre.

In 1953 Norman Winston, a wealthy real estate developer, purchased 600 acres of land in Belle Terre and added nine more holes, establishing the Harbor Hills Country Club. In 1978 Mayor Harold Sheprow leased the Harbor Hills club for $1 and in 1980 village residents approved the purchase of the property for $2.29 million by voter referendum. In 1986 the club was renamed the Port Jefferson Country Club at Harbor Hills.

“The club is 114 years old and it is not private anymore,” Griffith said in a phone interview. “Once the village took it over, it opened membership to all residents of Port Jefferson. Membership pays a fee and they operate the club not by using the residents tax money, but by membership dues paid to the country club.”

Due to the erosion of East Beach, the clubhouse, which sits along 170 acres of village property with golf, tennis and parking facilities, is in danger of falling down the slope. Village residents and elected officials are now weighing their options. 

Man vs. Mother Nature

TBR News Media sat down with Mayor Margot Garant in an exclusive interview. She addressed the rapid erosion of East Beach, the precarious fate of the clubhouse and the measures her administration is taking to address this growing problem.

“This is a village asset,” Garant said. “We always say that the country club is one of the five crown jewels of the village and I feel I have to do everything I can — and I will continue to do so — to preserve that facility because I think that’s in the best interest of the community.”

Projects to combat erosion have been ongoing since 2015. Intense storms, such as hurricanes Irene and Sandy, prompted shoreline restoration efforts on behalf of the village. However, as officials addressed the damaged beach, they spotted an even more alarming trend along the bluff.

“We noticed that the bluff started to have chunks of land just kind of detach and start sliding down the hill,” Garant said. 

Malcolm Bowman, professor of physical oceanography at Stony Brook University and distinguished service professor at the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, said eroding bluffs have become commonplace for coastal communities along the North Shore.

“It’s a particular problem on the North Shore of Long Island because these bluffs are very steep, they’re very high and they’re made of what we call unconsolidated sand,” Bowman said in a phone interview. “In other words, it doesn’t stick together and it’s only held together by vegetation, which can be very fragile and can be easily eroded.” 

In 2018 Garant filed permit applications with the DEC and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. These applications were subjected to multiple rounds of modification, with the approval process lasting over three years. During that period, the bluff continued to wither away.

“Because there’s no protection of the slope, we lost 16 1/2 feet of property in three-and-a-half years, so now the [clubhouse] is in jeopardy,” Garant said.

Man-made efforts to resist erosion do not offer long-term solutions, according to Bowman. Nonetheless, coastal engineering projects can buy valuable time for communities before large swaths of territory get washed away to the sea.

“In the end it’s futile because, basically, you’re buying time,” Bowman said. “You can fight it and you may get another 50 years out of it. And you might say, ‘That’s almost a human lifetime, so therefore it’s worth it.’ The taxpayers of the incorporated village — they’re the ones who are paying for it — might say, ‘It will allow me to enjoy the club for another 50 years and my children, maybe.’” He added, “Beyond that, it’s anybody’s guess.”

In a unanimous vote, the Board of Trustees approved a $10 million bond on Nov. 15, 2021, to finance bluff stabilization. The entire project will be completed in two separate iterations: phase I to secure the towline of the bluff, and phase II to preserve the clubhouse.

Phase I: Lower wall

“Phase I is going to consist of hardening the toe of the bluff with steel riprap rock and some concrete, as well as the revegetation of the bluff itself,” said Joe Palumbo, village administrator. “We’re basically creating a seawall there to slow down, or prevent, any further erosion.”

In its initial permit application, the village planned to construct a 20-foot-high steel retaining wall that would run approximately 650 linear feet along the toe of the bluff. However, due to concerns about the wall’s length and height, DEC asked the village to scale down its proposal.

“Part of the modification of the permit required us to eliminate the steel wall for the portion of the property behind the tennis courts,” Garant said. “We originally wanted to go in — I’m going to estimate — 650 linear feet and they pulled it back to about 450 linear feet.” The mayor added, “We went a little back and forth with DEC, saying we don’t understand why you’re making us do that, but we’ll do it because I’m trying to get something started to protect the integrity of the bluff.”

Phase II: Upland wall

After a 4-1 vote to approve phase I, the board is now considering ways to protect its upland properties, including the clubhouse, tennis courts and parking lot. Phase II involves constructing an upland wall between the clubhouse and the bluff to prevent any further loss of property. 

“The upland project will consist of driving steel sheets into the ground behind the village’s [clubhouse] facility, extending past the courts on the lower side and the upper side,” Palumbo said. “Some revegetation in front of that wall and behind the wall will also take place. I believe the wall itself will extend out from the ground about 15 to 24 inches so as not to impede the view that exists there.” 

The Board of Trustees is also exploring the option of demolishing the clubhouse, a less expensive option than building the upper wall, but still a multimillion-dollar project due to the cost of demolishing the building and adding drainage atop the cliff. “I’m trying to get all of that information together to put on the table, so that we can make an intelligent decision about the upland plan while we proceed with advancing the installation of the toe wall,” Garant said. 

Weighing the options

Although the village’s acquisition of the country club was finalized by voter referendum, residents have not yet voted to approve phases I or II. Garant believes voters had a chance to halt these projects during last year’s election process.

“When the Board of Trustees voted 5-0 to borrow the $10 million, that’s when the public had an opportunity to say, ‘Hey, wait a minute,’” Garant said. “I could have put it out as part of the election that’s coming up or had a separate vote, but the clock is ticking on my permits.” She added, “I feel I have the authority — and my board has the authority — to do these kinds of projects.”

During the interview with Garant, she agreed that bluff stabilization was an unforeseen expense when the village purchased the property. Asked whether the country club is a depreciating asset, Garant maintained that the property has been a lucrative investment.

“It’s not just the building [that we’re protecting], it’s all of the country club’s assets,” she said. “The parking lot is a tremendous asset. I’m trying to preserve some of the sports complexes up there and even expand on them.”

One of the central arguments made for preserving the clubhouse is that the country club raises the property values of all village residents, and that to lose the facility would hurt the real estate market. Jolie Powell, owner of Port Jefferson-based Jolie Powell Realty, substantiated this claim.

“What makes us unique here in the incorporated Village of Port Jefferson is that we are one of very few [villages] that offers these amenities,” Powell said in a phone interview. “It adds value to the community and to prospective homeowners because they want to live in a village that has a private beach, country club amenities and pickleball.” She added, “The country club is essential to a prospective buyer who comes to the village. … They’re looking for amenities and the golf course is huge.”

When asked about the potential costs to village residents, Powell offered this perspective: “I don’t know what that cost will be for the residents, but it will be nominal. Our taxes are so low to begin with compared to every other community.”

Another sticking point is the long-term prospect of golf as a recreational activity. Martin Cantor, director of the Long Island Center for Socioeconomic Policy and author of “Long Island, The Global Economy and Race,” said the popularity of golf has waned in recent decades. He suggests any proposal related to the preservation of the clubhouse should also include a plan to boost recreational activity at the golf course.

“Golf is not as widely played as it was 30 years ago,” Cantor said in a phone interview. “If the village puts up a retaining wall, then it has to also have a development plan or a plan for how it’s going to generate economic activity to pay back the loan for the retaining wall.”

Responding to Cantor, Garant said the COVID-19 pandemic has helped to revive interest in the sport. “Prior to the pandemic, I would say that might be right,” the mayor said. “Since the pandemic, the sport is booming. That program up there is so robust that they have not only paid back the money they owed the village to help them run operations, but they’re now exceeding their budget and have money to put up netting.” She added, “Right now golf is the thing.”

Since bluff stabilization is closely linked to the activities at the country club, Cantor suggested that an economic feasibility study may add clarity to this issue, allowing residents and officials to determine whether preserving the clubhouse is in the fiscal interest of the village. 

“In terms of economics to the village, other than the rent, all of the money that gets paid in the golf club stays within the golf club,” Cantor said. “They have to do a feasibility study on the economics of keeping it open.”

Factored into this multivariable equation are also the qualitative benefits that the clubhouse may offer to the community. Griffith packaged the country club with the library, school district, public parks and other amenities that raise taxes but contribute to the character and culture of the village.

“These are things that add not only to the monetary value, but also the cultural and aesthetic value of the village,” he said. “I wouldn’t want to see those kinds of things eliminated. Each of these amenities — these assets — are wonderful values that make this village what it is.” He added, “It’s not just a home. You’re buying into a community and a community has to offer something beyond your own little piece of property, and that’s what Port Jefferson does.” 

Griffith added that he would like the issue to be put on the ballot so that residents have the final say. “I am in favor of having a public hearing on the matter and then having a public referendum. Let the people decide, just as they decided to purchase the country club.”

The long-awaited retaining wall at East Beach is finally done after a total makeover of the decaying former wall. 

Back in March, the project was awarded to Galvin Brothers and Madhue Contracting, both of Great Neck, as a joint venture for a total of $474,830. The expenses for the structural repairs were included in the budget and were part of a bond anticipation note. 

This came as part of the ongoing revitalization of East Beach, which included sand dredging, and soon a revegetation of the bluff. 

According to Mayor Margot Garant, the wall was finished on time and as expected by Memorial Day weekend.

“I think the community is really happy with it,” she said. “It’s important that we got this wall completed.”

Garant said they are continuously keeping an eye on the wall and watching the upper slop to make sure everything stays in place.

“When there was a monsoon [that weekend],” she said, “Everything stayed intact.”

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This summer, the above concession stand will become a new taco shack at Port Jefferson’s East Beach. Photo by Julianne Mosher

The vacant concession stand at East Beach will be the new home to a taco shack this summer.Prohibition East Beach is planned to opened on Memorial Day or shortly after, weather permitting. 

Lisa Harris, owner of Prohibition in the village, said she found out she won the bid last week after she submitted a thorough plan, complete with renderings and a menu.

With the recent upgrades that included a sand dredging and a new retaining wall to the resident-only beach — located by the Port Jefferson Country Club — Harris thinks a food stand will be the icing on the cake in revitalizing the local beach.

“The beach was always popular, but I think because people were staying home for the past year, the beaches have become so important,” she said. “I love seeing the village investing energy and resources into a space like this.”

Back in April, the village put out a call to food and beverage providers encouraging them to submit proposals for a snack concession stand. Mayor Margot Garant said the spot has been vacant for close to 25 years. 

Over the years, the village tried to encourage residents to utilize the beach, including family fun nights that never stuck. 

“I’m looking forward to bringing back some of the traditions that bring our families together down at the beach,” Garant said. “Now, we’re open and we want to see people come in, come back and enjoy the beach in the summertime.”

Garant added this year is a “trial year.” 

While other business owners inquired about the stand, during the bid process, Harris seemed like the best fit thanks to her involvement in the village and owning of several businesses in Upper Port. Along with Prohibition, she owns Torte Jeff, the pie shop, which recently combined with her donut store, East Main & Main.

That’s why she’s calling the stand Prohibition East Beach.

“Prohibition has a good reputation [on Main Street],” she said. “And I worked really hard at maintaining that.”

So, making this small shack an extension of her popular bar and restaurant was a no-brainer — and the Main Street spot will act as the commissary to the new space. All the food will be cooked there and then sold out of the East Beach location.

Her concept is a casual taco spot with a beachy vibe. The concession stand will be cleaned up, with benches and bistro tables next to it. 

Harris plans on stringing lights, giving it a cool, laid back atmosphere. She wants to set up speakers and maybe have some steel drum music down the line.

“I love this beach,” she said. “Every time I come down here, I always wondered why there wasn’t a beach concession down here. So, I’m really excited about it.”

Stock photo

On Sunday, April 18 at 9 a.m.,  local nonprofit Hometown Hope —in conjunction with Seatow, Sheep Pasture Landscaping and Maggio Environmental — will be hosting a beach cleanup event at all Port Jefferson-area beaches. 

Volunteers will be dispersed across Centennial Beach, Belle Terre Beach, McCallister Park, West and East Beach. 

Grab a mask and some gloves and come help keep the local beaches beautiful.

Hometown Hope Port Jefferson provides and connects resources and support in times of need to all Port Jefferson village residents by promoting a movement of spreading kindness. 

Hometown Hope strives to uplift through wellness, resilience and compassionate understanding within the community. 

To find out more about Hometown Hope, or to sign up for the upcoming beach cleanup, visit their website at hometownhopepj.org.

The sand dredging component of the East Beach renovations was completed earlier this year. Photo from Margot Garant

As part of the ongoing renovations of Port Jefferson’s East Beach, the village recently completed the bidding process to rebuild of the beach’s retaining wall. 

During the village’s virtual board of trustees meeting on March 1, Mayor Margot Garant announced the milestone — a project that has essentially been going on since Hurricane Sandy hit Long Island in 2012. 

“We’re happy to see this project underway,” she said. “Everything’s in order.”

According to Garant, a construction meeting will be held with village administrator Joe Palumbo in the upcoming week, with plans to start the wall’s renovations before beach season starts. 

Along with East Beach, the retaining wall at Highlands Boulevard will also be included. 

A view of the current retaining wall at East Beach that will undergo a makeover thanks to the village’s bid approval. Photo from Margot Garant

In a recent newsletter from the village sent to residents, it stated that the project was awarded to Galvin Brothers and Madhue Contracting, both of Great Neck, as a joint venture for a total of $474,830. The expenses for the structural repairs are included in the budget and were part of a bond anticipation note. 

Garant said this action will be a “springboard” as the village awaits DEC permits to finalize the East Beach project. After the retaining wall, revegetation of the bluff at the beach will be next on the list. The village is currently waiting for confirmation to see if it is eligible for FEMA reimbursement as a result of bluff loss at the site during Tropical Storm Isaias. The funds could help pay for the bluff’s restoration.

Earlier this year, sand dredging at East Beach, near Mount Sinai Harbor, was finalized — a project that took nearly a decade to complete, cost several million dollars and was a collaborative effort between the village, town, county, state and federal governments. Close to 80,000 cubic yards of sand was brought back to the beach. 

This retaining wall will continue to help keep the beach looking the way it does now. 

“It’s retention of our assets,” Garant said. “Plus, protecting our environment is critical.”

Port Jefferson’s East Beach after the sand dredging was completed this week. Photo by Gerard Romano

The decade-long, multimillion-dollar project to spruce up Mount Sinai Harbor and its jetties is finally looking more complete, as the dredging project was finalized this past week.

In November of last year, the Town of Brookhaven permitted Suffolk County to complete the dredging at a total cost of $2 million with close to 80,000 cubic yards of sand.

A shot from the dredging process last month. Photo by Gerard Romano

“This is just another project where the layers and layers and layers of government all the way up to the federal level worked together,” said Village of Port Jefferson Mayor Margot Garant. 

But the project is more than baskets of sand returning to the local shorelines. After many years of planning, both the east and west jetties in Mount Sinai Harbor were repaired in May 2020. For 10 years, both have been largely submerged at high tide, with water and sand leaking through breaks in the stones and settling into the mouth of the harbor. 

Garant added that after about 60 days, “basketfuls of sand” were brought back to Port Jefferson’s East Beach, which included sand from the postponed Stony Brook Harbor dredging project, to replenish the erosion caused throughout the years. 

“We’re just so thrilled to have our beach back,” she said. 

Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) said the completion of the project was a long time coming.

She said there were numerous issues with the jetties, the inlet and the harbor itself. 

“We rebuilt the fishing pier that has been subjected to numerous nor’easters, built two new jetties and a complete dredge of the beaches,” Bonner said. “I’m hopeful it lasts a long time.”

The same spot in 2018. Photo by Gerard Romano

In November, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers designated that most of the sand be primarily brought to the Port Jefferson side of the harbor. While Bonner admitted she hoped for an equitable split of sand, she’s happy that the goals of keeping recreational boaters and fishermen safe, while enhancing the North Shore’s water quality, have been achieved. 

“All levels of government have put a lot of money and resources into this project,” Bonner said. “It’s a win-win.”

It’s not completely done, though. Garant said the next phase is to repair the retaining wall going down the hill and revegetate the bluff. 

“It’s just an ongoing process of protecting our shoreline,” she said. 

Port Jeff to Get Sand to Replenish East Beach

Contractors recently finished reconstruction of the Mount Sinai Jetty, and now Suffolk County plans to dredge the inlet, giving all sand to Port Jefferson. Photo by Kyle Barr

It’s finally happening.

Suffolk County now has all it needs to start dredging the mouth of Mount Sinai Harbor between the two newly reconstructed jetties. It is the last piece of the puzzle before the decade-long, multimillion dollar project to repair the beleaguered inlet can be finalized.

Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point) asked for a drum roll over Zoom at the online town meeting Nov. 19, saying she is finally able to exhale as the dredging should mean the finale to an extended saga. The harbor dredging will impact how well the Mount Sinai Harbor flushes, which is a big boon to the marine life inside, including the town’s oysters and clams at its mariculture facility.

“It’s hard to fight Mother Nature,” she said. “Frankly, I’m just happy that
it’s over.”

The town is permitting Suffolk County to complete the dredging with a total cost of $2 million. Because an increased amount of sand will be dredged than originally anticipated, the cost jumped by an additional $1 million compared to before.

“Sand is very valuable,” the councilwoman said.

The project is planned to go from December through January, according to Bonner.

Though the councilwoman said the town was originally set to receive half the dredged sand, a recent decision by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has mandated all the sand will be going to the Village of Port Jefferson to replenish its East Beach. Village Clerk Barbara Sakovich said that the amount of sand will be close to 80,000 cubic yards, provided by the county. In addition, the village is also set to receive hundreds of cubic yards a week from the Stony Brook dredging project, which has already started and is estimated to take five weeks.

Bonner expressed some disappointment that the dredging will not provide some additional sand on the marina side of the Cedar Beach peninsula.

“We’re resourceful, we’ll figure something out,” the councilwoman said, adding she wanted to thank state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) who managed to give the town a $3 million grant toward the jetty reconstruction. 

The Village of Port Jefferson has long said much of the sand that ended up on the bottom of the inlet was from East Beach, which slipped through the broken jetty. Satellite images from the 1990s until now show a dramatic decrease of beachfront lost to storms and erosion over time. 

“The dredging is great news,” PJ village Mayor Margot Garant said. “I can’t confirm it replaces all the sand [East Beach has lost], but it will certainly be a substantial renourishment.”

The jetty project was finally completed in May this year after several months of construction and many years of planning. For close to a decade, both the east and west jetty in Mount Sinai have been largely submerged at high tide, with both water and sand leaking through breaks in the stones and settling into the mouth of Mount Sinai Harbor. Contractors were awarded an $8.3 million agreement in total to reconstruct both jetties.

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Port Jefferson Village Hall. File photo by Heidi Sutton

With nine projects currently on Port Jefferson Village’s plate, the board decided July 20 to put over $2 million worth of beach, road and facility improvements into a 5-year bond anticipation note, known as a BAN, anticipating more surplus and grant funds in the following years.

The nine projects are worth $2,364,216, though all are in various phases of development and the end costs on several could change. With grants and the use of otherwise existing funds, the village anticipates it will need to pay off $1,241,416 over time.

Denise Mordente, the village treasurer, said a BAN is a 5 year loan that has lower interest rates than a normal bond, with this one being at 1 percent. In that time between when a BAN becomes a bond, the village is anticipating to have paid off significant portions of what they owe through the grant funds or other surpluses.

Projects include:

• $118,562 for the Highland Boulevard retaining wall project

• $519,745 (with a $450,000 grant) for an expansion of Public Works Facility and creation of a emergency command center

• $399,250 for the East Beach retaining wall

• $711,150 (with existing $350,000 bond and $350,000 grant) for Station Street project

• $141,056 (with a $49,000 grant) for Rocketship Park bathroom renovations

• $125,603 (with a $73,800 grant) for Village Hall bathroom renovations

• $180,000 for the Longfellow Road drainage project

• $814,069 (with an existing $300,000 bond, $200,000 grant and $314,069 in parking funds) for Barnum Parking Lot project

• $230,000 for the digitization of planning department records

For this year’s budget, Port Jefferson’s $9,992,565 in appropriations was a 3.19 percent decrease from last year’s total amount. Not only that, but Port Jeff’s settlement with LIPA over the assessed tax value of the Port Jefferson Power Station meant the village will need to raise $6,451,427 from taxes, a near $50,000 increase from last year.

Mayor Margot Garant said in previous years the village has had its surplus carried over from year to year, which has been used to fund these projects, especially when grants often take a significant amount of time before the village can be reimbursed on said projects. This year, with the loss of revenues from the first and second quarters due to the pandemic, the village anticipates much less of that surplus into next year.

“We have a lot of projects in the works, but what we don’t have is a lot of surplus money,” she said during the livestreamed July 20 meeting. “We are three years into the LIPA glidepath and last quarter losing $350,000 due to COVID, we still closed last year’s budget with a surplus, but it’s just not the money we used to have.”

The village is currently working to pay off two other existing bonds, while one other BAN on the village books will be made into a bond this August. That original $1,480,000 BAN was created in 2016 to finance the purchase of a vehicle for the department of public works, renovate Rocketship Park and purchase the dilapidated structure on Barnum Avenue that will soon become a new parking lot. As the BAN becomes a bond, that $1.4 million has been lowered down to $720,000, and will be a 2 percent interest rate. The first payment of $85,000 will be due in 2021.

The two older debt services the village is paying off include a 2011 and 2013 bond with a total outstanding debt of $4,040,000, which are expected to be paid off in 2029. Both of those bonds were refinanced in 2019, which saved the village about $37,000 a year, according to Mordente.

The village currently has an AA bond rating.

The board also tackled the difficult question of potential future staff layoffs due to the loss of funds this year. Trustee Bruce D’Abramo suggested the village makes active strides in its budget and potentially even borrow money to reduce layoffs.

“I would like to see us make up for the projected revenue from the courts, from parking and from the Village Center — I’d like to see us borrow that money and make our 2020-21 budget whole for the rest of the year and not lay any of our good employees off,” D’Abramo said.

Both Mordente, in speaking with the village’s financial advisers, and Village Attorney Brian Egan argued that current municipal finance laws wouldn’t allow for Port Jeff to borrow in that way. 

“Everyone’s in the same boat, they’re up against that same issue,” Egan said, who added the village will monitor bills in Albany that would allow municipalities to gain access to additional funds.

D’Abramo confirmed the village should be thinking about such in the future.

“I would like the board to think about this, so we can keep all of our employees,” he said.

The new east jetty at Mount Sinai harbor. Photo by Gerard Romano

After nearly eight months of work and years and years of consternation, reconstruction of the Mount Sinai Jetty has finally come to completion, with work crews having already moved on by mid-May and a few check-box items still to be finalized. 

Photographer Gerard Romano took the original picture Sept. 20, 2017. The latest picture was taken May 13, showing a dramatic difference in size and shape of the east jetty. Photos by Romano

The Jetty Project has been a long time coming. For years, both the east and west jetty have been largely submerged at high tide, with both water and sand leaking through breaks in the stones and settling into the mouth of Mount Sinai Harbor. Port Jefferson’s East Beach has been seeing a rapid loss of sand in the past few years, and village officials have said much of that sand is ending up in the harbor inlet. 

In September 2016, the town received $3 million in a Dormitory Authority of the State of New York grant, originally secured thanks to the help of New York state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson).

Last year, the Town of Brookhaven hired H&L Contracting with a $7.4 million bid to complete the project. The construction workers worked through the winter months repairing and replacing stones on both the east and west sides of the jetty. That number was revised in late February, with an additional $868,000 for a total contract amount of $8,297,782.50. Construction began last September and ramped up over the following months.

Photographer Gerard Romano took the original picture Sept. 20, 2017. The latest picture was taken May 13, showing a dramatic difference in size and shape of the east jetty. Photos by Romano

Brookhaven Councilwoman Jane Bonner (R-Rocky Point), who has been the main town point-person on the project for over a decade, said the extra funds were for extra contingencies, but the final project still comes in under the original estimates of $10 million.

With this part of the project complete, the last step is for Suffolk County to complete dredging of the inlet. 

Joe Palumbo, the Port Jefferson village administrator, said they have not yet heard word from the county about dredging.

“This is a project the village is monitoring closely and will continue to,” Palumbo said.

Bonner added that the new jetty will not only be a boon to the beachgoers and boaters, but to the surrounding wildlife. The broken jetties have caused issues with the harbor’s ability to “flush” or how the water flows in and out of Long Island Sound.

“That’s the most significant part of this,” the councilwoman said.