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Erosion

By 2020, the courts at the Port Jefferson Country Club are nearly at the edge of the bluff. Photo by Royce Perera

I have spent my lifetime fighting to protect our land, water and the air we breathe in every few seconds of our lives. So, it was especially meaningful to meet Sapphire Perera, a young person in our community whose deep caring for and connection with our environment has propelled her to play a role in its protection.  

One of Sapphire’s talents is writing, and she uses this skill to spread awareness and inspire others to action. Our local newspaper, TBR News Media, has given Sapphire Perera an opportunity to use the platform of a column in the paper to inform us about environmental issues. This is a good thing because young people can introduce fresh ideas and outlook to environment-related issues and breathe new life into our motivation to protect and improve the environment that sustains us.

— State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket)

By Sapphire Perera

The beauty of the Port Jeff shoreline should not blind us to the growing problem of land erosion. Similar to the fact that the majestic stone figures of Easter Island should not hide the ecological disaster that overcame their island. All over the shores of Port Jeff and Long Island, there are eroding bluffs. While people just see these eroding bluffs as being steep cliffs of sand that can be climbed on, they pose a much greater threat to our environment and to the buildings that line the top of the land. 

In 2012, satellite images show much more room left between the Port Jefferson Country Club’s tennis courts and the bluff.

Ever since 2012, the residents of Port Jeff have been trying to solve the issue of the eroding bluffs. The lack of vegetation and increasing deforestation have only made the erosion worse. To combat this problem, the village has planned on constructing seawalls and barriers and are still waiting for permits from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. They also hope for Suffolk County to dredge the area surrounding Mount Sinai harbor and return sand to the beaches. Currently, the Town of Brookhaven is in the midst of reconstruction of the jetties at the mouth of Mount Sinai Harbor. The jetties had been worn down over time, leaving them not as effective as they used to be, with holes and submerged rocks allowing sand to run over and through. Previous Port Times Record editor Alex Petroski wrote about the eroding bluffs in Port Jeff [“Eroding Port Jeff beach causing concern for village,” June 1, 2017], and his article included pictures of the bluffs of Port Jeff and Belle Terre. In February, my brother Royce Perera captured the image of these bluffs from a similar angle with his drone. If you compare the two pictures and examine the bluffs near the country club, the worsening erosion of the bluffs is clear. Bluff erosion has only gotten worse and without any deterrents or solutions, more land continues to end up on our sandy beaches.

Most recognize the problem but are ignorant of how the erosion of these bluffs has continually gotten worse and how human interaction can increase the rate at which erosion occurs. Many factors contribute to erosion but in recent years, there have been intense storms, strong winds and frequent human interference. While erosion is a natural process, coastal erosion on Long Island’s North Shore has been designated “critical” by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. As sand is continually sliding down the bluff to the beach, it is taking away land from the Island. Currently, the Port Jefferson Country Club tennis court is facing this problem because erosion of the bluff has come dangerously close to it. As more and more land disappears from the bluff, there is more of a chance for erosion to occur less stability. 

Sapphire Perera

Personally, when I have visited the beach, I have witnessed young kids and young adults walking up and down the bluffs. While this is perceived as a harmless act, these people are actually acting as catalysts to the process of erosion. The weight of that person pushes down more sand and destroys plants that hold the sand together. Sometimes there is garbage thrown down onto these bluffs which ends up destroying vegetation. Vegetation is one thing that helps maintain the structure of the bluff since it is holding particles together through the roots.

In order to protect the land and preserve the tennis courts at the country club, the Town is inching closer to finalizing reconstructing the jetties with hopes that it will be a barrier against erosion from tides, currents and waves. Other ways that would prevent erosion include the diversion of surface runoff away from the bluff, minimized paved areas that increase runoff and a decrease in additional weight on the bluff edge, such as pools, buildings or storage sheds.

Anthropologists now say that the grandeur of the Easter Island statues exists at a huge cost, namely the permanent destruction of the Island. We in Port Jefferson must learn from others’ mistakes and curb human activity in order to conserve Port Jeff’s beaches, water and land. 

Sapphire Perera is a junior at Port Jefferson high school. This is the first of a planned column series by her called “Turtle Island,” which refers to the Native American mythology about North America existing on the back of a great turtle that bears every living being on its spine.

The failing jetties have been cited as a contributor to erosion at Port Jefferson Village's East Beach

Mount Sinai Harbor. File photo by Alex Petroski

Officials believe one of the few things that stands in the way of further erosion of Port Jefferson Village’s East Beach, which sits on the Long Island Sound at the end of Village Beach Road, are jetties, or rock pilings meant to protect the shoreline, at the mouth of Mount Sinai Harbor, just east of the Port Jeff beach. With the two town-owned structures in need of restoration, Brookhaven is looking for some additional funding.

The Brookhaven Town board voted unanimously at a July 12 meeting to submit grant applications to the New York State Green Innovations Grant Program and Local Waterfront Revitalization Program for additional money to work on the jetty reconstruction project.

The $8.6 million jetty project has been in the works for several years, but only truly got underway in 2016. The town is seeking reimbursement of about $1.3 million through the grants. The resulting $7.3 million net cost would be financed through an existing $3 million Dormitory Authority of the State of New York grant, originally provided through New York state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), and $4.3 million from a previous town bond resolution.

Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) said the old east and west jetties have holes from rocks collapsing, which allows sand to stream through. Age has not been kind to either structure, and the seaward sides of both jetties remain submerged at high tide. Hurricane Irene and Superstorm Sandy caused further damage to the jetties over subsequent years.

With the money the town already has along with these new grant bids, Bonner said she is optimistic reconstruction of the jetties will start some time in 2019.

“Those holes create a current at high tide that allows sand to get through,” Bonner said. “We are completely committed to taking all the necessary steps to make sure this gets done right.”

Brookhaven is the only Long Island municipality in charge of jetties, as the Army Corps of Engineers maintains all others, according to Bonner.

Brookhaven has also hired Melville-based Nelson & Pope Engineers & Land Surveyor, PLLC to at a cost of $151,800 for help in the Mount Sinai Harbor dredging project. The dredging will widen the inlet and relieve the pressure of the water hitting the jetties at high tide, according to Bonner. Widening the inlet will help flush out Mount Sinai Harbor, which would lead to cleaner water for both fish living in the harbor and the town’s shellfish at its mariculture facility.

The failing jetties have had an impact on the shoreline of Port Jeff Village. The bottom 15 feet of the bluff along East Beach had fallen 260 feet west of the rock revetment, according to a 2016 letter from Stony Brook-based GEI Consultants, a privately-owned consulting firm contracted by the village, to the village regarding its concerns about erosion. GEI also stated that repairs to the jetties should be the first step in alleviating erosion issues.

Bonner said some of the preliminary work already done has helped relieve the flow of water coming into the inlet and through the jetties, but until the real reconstruction starts the erosion of the local beach remains a problem.

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) said Mount Sinai Harbor contributes millions of dollars to community through tourism.

“It’s a very special harbor,” Anker said. “Repairing the channel should be a primary concern.”

A slumping bluff is raising eyebrows in Port Jefferson Village.

Bids are being accepted, and will continue to be through April 16, for a project that village officials hope will stave off erosion at Port Jefferson East Beach Area and Pavilion that is endangering a tennis court.

Port Jeff has been trying to figure out how to deal with its shrinking beach and slumping bluff at least as far back as early 2016. The new plan of action is to build a wall — it’s yet to be determined whether it will be built out of steel or a revetment of rocks — at the base of the bluff. Overhead images of the beach accessed via Google Earth show the shoreline nestled between the Long Island Sound and a bluff that leads to the grounds of the Port Jefferson Country Club clearly shrinking over the years. Officials are concerned about tennis court No. 4 at the country club, which has inched closer to the edge of the bluff as the beach has eroded.

Erosion of East Beach in Port Jefferson is causing trees to slump down an adjacent bluff. Photo by Alex Petroski

“The Village of Port Jefferson’s shoreline suffered significant structural damage, resulting from multiple state-of-emergency storm events,” said a Jan. 17, 2017, letter from GEI Consultants, a privately-owned consulting firm contracted by Port Jeff, to the village regarding its concerns about erosion.

After the East Coast was hit with four storms classified as Nor’easters by the National Weather Service in March, a walkway and pavilion on the eastern end of the parking lot at the end of Village Beach Road was severely damaged, and many trees can be seen uprooted and horizontal at the bottom west of the road.

“That whole area East Beach is just a disaster,” Trustee Stan Loucks said during a March board meeting after taking a look at the area.

Trustee Bruce D’Abramo called it “scary” to see how badly the beach is eroding.

In an article entitled “Forgotten North Shore vulnerable to sea level rise” published by TBR News Media in January, R. Lawrence Swanson, the interim dean and associate dean of the Stony Brook University School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, said staving off erosion of bluffs is a complicated problem on the North Shore that will require more research from New York state.

Several strong March storms caused damage at East Beach in Port Jefferson. Photo by Alex Petroski

“What can be done in the way of resiliency to preserve the character of the North Shore and yet also protect individual properties on the Sound — both those on the cliffs and those on the barrier spits?” he wrote. “Is hardening the bluffs and beaches at great expense the answer? Do we let nature take its course? Do residents on the barrier beaches have rights to the sediment of eroding cliffs in much the same way that downstream California claims rights to Colorado River water? If hardening of bluffs is allowed, will there be enough sediment at the toe to maintain a beach to reduce wave run-up? New York State needs to examine this issue and develop guidance that works for all.”

He warned that construction of sea walls can hinder the natural process of erosion from the base of North Shore bluffs, reducing the materials available to maintain barrier spits, or formations caused by the lateral movement of water along a shoreline, subjecting bluffs to “over washing.”

“Beaches fronting the bluffs will disappear so that waves will be beating directly on the seawalls,” he said. “This is a regional issue that cannot be solved property by property or even on a town-by-town basis. With the state of development on the North Shore, some form of intervention or adaptation is probably required; nature cannot be left totally unchecked, given the grim climate projections for this coming century.”

Brookhaven Town Highway Superintendent Dan Losquadro and Councilwoman Jane Bonner inspect the Sound Beach shoreline stabilization project. Photo from Town of Brookhaven

Sound Beach’s shoreline is now stabilized.

In October 2012, Hurricane Sandy changed the typography of much of the North Shore’s beaches and dunes. In Sound Beach, the bluff at Shore Road and Amagansett Drive became severely eroded. With roads and homes at risk, the Town of Brookhaven Highway Department began a four-year, multiphase $1.3 million project in May 2013 to steady it.

“The hardening of our infrastructure leaves us less vulnerable to damage from future storms,” Highway Superintendent Dan Losquadro (R) said. “In the long run, the results of this project will save taxpayer dollars due to fewer erosion costs in the area.”

To stabilize the bluff, almost 2,000 cubic yards of clean fill was added and an outfall pipe replaced, which broke during Hurricane Sandy. The work was approved by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and $233,651 in federal assistance was received to help with the cost of the project.

The work on the bluff and the repair of the pipe were never meant to complete the project, but, according to Losquadro, was just a first phase.

“In the long run, the results of this project will save taxpayer dollars due to fewer erosion costs in the area.”

— Dan Losquadro

“It was just a temporary ‘Band-Aid’ so the bluff wouldn’t erode any further and jeopardize the structural integrity of the drainage pipe,” he said. “Our ultimate goal was to eliminate the outfall over the bluff completely, abandon the drainage pipe and direct all of the water from this stream into a newly constructed recharge basin to the east of Amagansett Drive.”

He said the project offered the town the rare ability to eliminate an outfall pipe, preventing stormwater runoff from flooding the beach and entering the Long Island Sound, while also taking erosion pressure off the face of the bluff.

Once construction of the recharge basin near the intersection of Amagansett Drive and Shore Drive was completed in 2015, the final phase of the project began, which included the abandonment of the pipe and permanent stabilization of the bluff through the installation of a three- to four-ton armoring stone revetment wall, erosion control matting, wood terracing and native plantings. The project also included the installation of a new staircase from Shore Drive.

“As a town, we need to make sure there is reliable access that will be there season after season for our fire department and police in the event of an emergency,” Losquadro said.

This phase was completed with in-house resources and came in under budget.

Although the temporary stabilization of the bluff received funding from FEMA, the storm hardening and total bluff restoration was paid for through town capital funds. The total cost for Phase II — construction of the recharge basin — was $633,333 and for Phase III — storm hardening and bluff restoration — was $450,000.

“Completion of this project on time and under budget after being stalled by [Hurricane] Sandy is a welcome event to the residents of Sound Beach,” Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point) said. “The bluffs along the North Shore are especially vulnerable to erosion, but the more we can do to stabilize our shoreline, the safer it will be.”

Asharoken Village beach. File photo by Victoria Espinoza

Asharoken Village residents will soon have to decide if they want support a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-backed proposal to replenish the community’s eroding beaches.

The $30 million idea involves building the beach back up with more sand to fight erosion. The issue concerning many residents is that in order for the plan to go into effect, public access must be granted to private properties that have new sand put down on their beaches.

Currently, the public is only afforded access of a private beach property below the water line. However, if the village board approves this proposal, the public would have access above the mean high water line to certain private properties.

Some trustees on the village board have said they will not approve a plan that residents don’t agree with.
According to Village Trustee Mel Ettinger, five public access points need to be established for this pitch to go through. He said currently the public can access private beaches from two different areas, and are not trespassing as long as they are below the mean high water line.

Since the Army Corps of Engineers is largely funding the project, public access is a must in order for the proposal to go through. The Army Corps would pay for 89.5 percent of the $30 million costs to help fight beach erosion, and the village would have to pay 10.5 percent, or about $3 million dollars.

“The board of trustees and the mayor are doing our due diligence in exploring the issues associated with putting sand on the beaches and making sure residents are being heard,” Ettinger said in a recent phone interview.

At the end of June, the Army Corps presented the board with five different versions of the proposal, all varying in costs and methods.

On June 30, the Army Corps met with the village board and recommended a plan that consists of a berm and a dune system with groins on the northwestern end of the project area. This area includes the properties on the side of Asharoken Avenue that touches the Long Island Sound.

Berms are wedges of sand that face the sea. They are composed of sand from offshore, and help indicate that the beach has been gaining sand in recent weeks or months. Dunes are hills of sand that have either accumulated over time or have been bulldozed in. Artificial dunes help to hold an eroding shoreline in place.

“Groins in combination with new sand would reduce the erosional effect of existing groins and reduce the frequency of re-nourishments needed,” James D’Ambrosio, public affairs spokesperson for the Army Corps of Engineers said.

According to D’Ambrosio, if the residents of Asharoken do not approve this idea, then the Hurricane Sandy funds that were allocated this project would be used elsewhere.

Ettinger said once the board decides on a plan, it is required to write a letter to the Army Corps requesting which plan they want to go ahead with. Then, assuming the Army Corps approves the decision, the board will prepare a presentation to the village residents that explain all aspects of what it would mean to move forward with the plan.

“The best decision is to come up with a plan that the residents are in agreement with,” Mayor Greg Letica said in a recent phone interview.

Letica also mentioned that there are other options to ensure the safety and longevity of the beaches in Asharoken while still maintaining private access. If residents themselves entirely footed the bill, then there would be no need for the Army Corps financial assistance, and thus no obligation to make private beaches public.

“We need to protect the beaches, I understand the residents that don’t want to give access to their private property, but I think this is something we need to do,” Christine Peterson, an Asharoken resident said in a recent interview. “It’s not like we’re opening up a new beach and expect many new visitors to come and use it.”