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U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Construction of a retaining wall to fortify the toe of the East Beach bluff is expected to begin this year. Photo by Carolyn Sackstein

By Carolyn Sackstein

In a continuing effort to report on bluff erosion near the Port Jefferson Country Club at Harbor Hills, TBR News Media reached out to the Village of Port Jefferson to discuss the recent visit by assessors from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.  

Village administrator, Joe Palumbo, detailed FEMA’s visit to the village. He said the inspectors were assigned to assess the damage caused by Hurricane Ida last September to the recharge basins on Oakwood Road, Port Jefferson. 

“FEMA’s recent visit was to inspect and assess the damage caused by Hurricane Ida to the large and small recharge basins on Oakwood Road,” Palumbo said. “For some reason, this group of FEMA inspectors were not assigned to inspect the bluff project.” Adding that he hoped to get more clarity on FEMA’s plans, he said, “I had a call with FEMA to find out why and whether they are coming back to inspect [the bluff]. I hope to have a response to these questions on, or before, my next call with them.”

In an emailed statement, the village administrator provided additional historical context surrounding this issue. He described the difficulties of working with governmental agencies that lacked the sense of urgency necessary to secure the village’s assets in a timely manner.

“The village was unable to take action to stabilize the bluff until it received permits to do so from [the Department of Environmental Conservation] and Army Corps of Engineers,” he said. “It has been a long process. We submitted our permit to DEC in 2018 and received [approval] this past June.” 

Palumbo was also asked about the concerns raised by village residents, who want a public hearing and referendum on the matter. According to him, the village has worked closely with a coastal engineer who has provided an informed assessment of the proposed projects at East Beach.

“The village has been working vigorously with an experienced and qualified coastal engineer to develop a plan that will stabilize the bluff and protect the village asset that sits atop the bluff,” Palumbo said. “This plan has been presented and approved by a majority of the Board of Trustees, and is the plan that we believe is the best to preserve the bluff for many decades to come.”

Port Jefferson is not alone in its struggle against coastal erosion. Belle Terre is also taking up measures to counteract erosion of its beaches and mitigate storm damage. When asked if there was any intergovernmental cooperation between the villages of Port Jefferson and Belle Terre, Palumbo acknowledged the limitations of coordinating village responses.

“The Village of Belle Terre is a separate entity,” he said. “Our engineers had reviewed the measures taken and material used in Belle Terre, but believe the plan developed and materials being used to stabilize our bluff is the right plan that will last for decades to come.”

While the Port Jeff Board of Trustees has already approved a $10 million bond for the two-phased bluff project, Palumbo said the village is actively seeking grant funding that may subsidize the initiative significantly. 

“The village is looking at several funding opportunities, including through FEMA disaster declarations under Tropical Storm Isaias [last August] and Hurricane Ida; discretionary funds through Congressman Lee Zeldin [R-NY1] and Senator Chuck Schumer’s [D-NY] offices; and the [FEMA] Hazard Mitigation Grant Program.”

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.”

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According to the governor’s office, temporary state field hospitals, such as the one at Stony Brook University, were prepared for the winter with the removal of roofs and emptying the structures of equipment. Photo by Sue Wahlert

The state’s field hospital set up on the Stony Brook University grounds earlier this year has looked a little different over the past few weeks.

At the end of April, five climate-controlled structures were completed by the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers to provide SBU Hospital and other local medical centers with more beds due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Residents passing by the alternate care facility structures recently have noticed that they are roofless and the interior walls — used to create mini rooms — are now dismantled.

According to state officials, several temporary state field hospitals were prepared for the December winter storm, which included snow. Part of that prep work included emptying the structures of equipment and fixtures. At SBUH, the fabric tenting materials were also removed. However, the field hospital is not being dismantled completely in case it needs to be opened for patients. The 1,000-bed facility in Stony Brook has never been used.

According to state officials, all of the components that were removed were inventoried and are ready for use wherever needed, whether in Stony Brook, on Long Island or across the state.

The hospital extension was slated for patients with health care issues outside of COVID-19 in order to free up bed space in the hospital and other local medical centers to treat patients with the virus. The final cost for the alternate care facility was some $155 million, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. All work done by USACE for the construction of alternate care facilities was funded by Federal Emergency Management Agency mission assignments to USACE.

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) said when the alternate care facilities were assembled little was known about the pandemic’s course.

“At the time that they were built, the hospitals in Queens had so many bodies that they were tying refrigeration trucks together in the parking lots, just to store the bodies,” he said, adding the hospitals couldn’t process and bury the bodies fast enough.

“To put it in perspective, that was the environment in which the governor’s office basically made a decision,” he said. “I think they were informed by the seriousness of space limitations.”

He added early on no one knew that the infection rates would be down by the summer.

“The reality is that hindsight is 20/20,” Englebright said. “At that point in time, they did not have the benefit of knowing the scale, magnitude or speed of the pandemic. The governor was successful in suppressing New York’s acceleration in those months in the spring. And so, I think you have to look at the current dismantlement of the hospital as a testament, not of wastefulness, but of merciful success in suppressing the acceleration of the pandemic in New York.”

Stony Brook University Hospital. File photo

The Army Corps. of Engineers has awarded a $50 million contract to New York-based Turner Construction Company to begin building a hospital extension to handle the expected surge in hospital demand in the next few weeks amid the coronavirus pandemic.

With assistance from Suffolk County contractors and sub contractors, Turner will begin building the facility immediately and is expected to complete construction by April 18.

Stony Brook University Hospital and other area medical care facilities will use the hospital extension for patients who have come to the hospital for health care issues that don’t involve COVID-19, freeing up bed space in the main hospital and in other centers to treat patients with the virus.

The construction of the 1,000-bed facility is part of a Governor Andrew Cuomo’s (D) effort to double the number of hospital beds throughout the state within the next few weeks.

Construction on the hospital extension will start “right away,” said U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY1). The Army Corps. of Engineers has been “getting a running start on this project,” Zeldin said.

Zeldin was pleased that Anthony Ciorra, a senior program manager for the Army Corps. of Engineers, would be working closely on the project.

Ciorra is someone Zeldin has “interacted with very frequently, ” he said, adding the man is “intimately familiar with the First Congressional District. He has been a great resource throughout the years” and is able to cut through the red tape and get the job done.

Ciorra will be working under Col. Thomas Asbery, who is the commander for the New York District.

“Both of them have played an instrumental role in getting this to the point where it’s at right now,” Zeldin said.

The congressman said he expected local companies to contribute to the new construction.

“It would very much be my hope and expectation that Turner would be utilizing local businesses for supplies and labor to complete this project,” he said.

Separately, Stony Brook University said Batelle has added its Critical Care Decontamination System, which will allow the university to reuse N95 masks, among other personal protective equipment. The Batelle system will start decontaminating up to 80,000 masks per day by the end of this week. Before decontaminating the masks, people will inspect them to make sure masks with rips, tears, makeup, or other fluids don’t go through the process.

East Beach in Port Jefferson is on the Long Island Sound. File photo by Elana Glowatz

By Giselle Barkley

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency got more than it bargained for at a North Shore library earlier this month when concerned residents showed up to oppose a plan that would allow dumping of dredge spoils into the Long Island Sound for the next 30 years.

EPA officials had finalized the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ proposed open water dredging plan in January, and had set the public hearing at the Port Jefferson Free Library to get input on possible rules and regulations for the 30-year plan, which calls for the Army Corps of Engineers to dump upward of 50 cubic yards of dredge material from Connecticut waterways into the Long Island Sound.

The group has practices this type of dumping for years, but has recently faced opposition from environmental advocates.

About 60 community members attended the EPA’s hearing on the Long Island Sound Dredged Material Management Plan.

“We’re not offering … specifics in the rulemaking because we’re not going to approve a plan that pollutes the Long Island Sound,” said Adrienne Esposito, executive director for the Citizens Campaign for the Environment. “We’ve been having public hearings for 10 years and all of the public input has been unanimously ignored.”

The EPA has said it is open to finding alternative ways to dispose of the spoils, and invited communities to partner with that agency and with the Army Corps to line up resources to explore those other methods and do the investigation.

New York State demanded that the Army Corps reevaluate its disposal process in 2005, but Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has yet to make a public statement regarding the new dredging proposal.

“The Long Island Sound should be protected from adverse activities, rather than have this activity go forward,” Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) said.

Englebright, the head of the state Assembly’s Committee on Environmental Conservation, said spoils could instead be used to replenish eroded beaches: “We’re going to need to defend our coastlines and we’re going to need a lot of sediment to do that.”

Esposito had similar ideas at a press conference in February. She suggested the spoils could be used for wetlands and beach restoration and for capping landfills.

County officials like Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) were disappointed in the EPA’s support of the plan. “We’ve invested so much [money] in improving the health of the Sound,” she said. “To have them make a decision that flies in the face of all that investment … is very discouraging.”

In a previous interview, Stephen Perkins, a member of the EPA’s dredging team, said the agency tests the material before dumping it into the Sound. Highly toxic spoils are not dumped.

But Hoffman said spoils jeopardize the water’s health.

“It’s an estuary of significance, it’s an estuary that’s endangered,” Hahn said.

Adrienne Esposito speaks against a plan to dump dredge spoils in the Sound as county Legislators Sarah Anker, Kara Hahn and Al Krupski look on. Photo by Giselle Barkley

It’s been about six months and North Shore leaders are still fighting against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ proposal to continue dumping dredge spoils into the Long Island Sound.

Suffolk County Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) stood alongside fellow county Legislators Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue) and Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) on Tuesday at the William H. Rogers Legislature Building in Hauppauge to voice their opposition to the plan and ask Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and New York Secretary of State Cesar Perales to reject the proposal. George Hoffman of the Setauket Harbor Task Force and Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, were also among the leaders who voiced their opposition to the plan.

The Army Corps has dumped dredge spoils into waterways leading to the Sound for decades. Its final proposal, known as the Long Island Sound Dredged Material Management Plan, was completed on Jan. 11 and suggested dumping 30 to 50 million cubic yards of dredge material cleared out from Connecticut waterways over the course of another 30 years.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has supported the Army Corps’ proposal. Stephen Perkins, a member of the EPA’s dredging team, said the spoils are tested before being dumped to ensure they meet certain safety standards.

But critics say the state can reject the plan under the federal Clean Water Act.

Dredge dumping has caused toxic chemicals to be dispersed throughout the Sound over the years, affecting the ecosystem and many water-dwelling species, including fish and lobsters.

“If this was private industry doing this, I don’t think they’d go very far,” Krupski said. “They’d probably end up in jail.”

Over the past 11 years, the local government has spent $7 million to address environmental issues in the Sound, a fragile body of water, according to Anker. Some of that went toward creating a Long Island Sound study.

According to Esposito, New York State rejected a similar plan that the Army Corps proposed in 2005, and ordered that group and the EPA to slowly reduce the amount of dredge spoils being dumped into the Sound. She called for the plan to go back to the drawing board.

“We’ve committed so much resources, money, time and energy to protecting this water body,” Hahn said. “And then to just dump potential harmful and toxic waste spoils into our waters is a darn shame.”

Anker agreed, saying that the Sound creates upward of $36 billion of economic value on the Island.

Instead of dumping dredge spoils into the Long Island Sound, Esposito suggested using it to restore wetlands, rebuild beaches and cap landfills, among other methods of disposal.

“The Sound is dying and what they’re trying to do now is bury it in dredge spoil,” Legislator Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) said at the press conference.

The local leaders also criticized the EPA for supporting the Army Corps.

“On one hand, they are advancing a nitrogen-reduction plan,” Esposito said. “And on the other, they’re turning a blind eye to the disposal of the large quantities of dredge materials which cause significant nitrogen loading into the Sound.”

A public hearing on the dredging plan will be held on Tuesday, March 1, at the Port Jefferson Free Library, at the corner of Thompson and East Main streets. That event runs from 5 to 7 p.m., with registration for public speakers starting at 4:30 p.m.

Coastal geologist Aram Terchunian. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

The considerations for the Asharoken beach and dune restorations continue.

Coastal geologist Aram Terchunian from First Coastal Corp. consultants delivered a presentation to the board of trustees on Feb. 3, and trustees said they still agreed to go forward with an $84.5 million plan that would transform Asharoken’s beaches and dunes.

Several months ago, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers presented the board with five different alternatives to combat the flooding and erosion problems the village has encountered, specifically those that arose after Hurricane Sandy.

Trustees said they preferred the plan known as alternative (1), which uses sand to fill the coastline along Asharoken Beach. The plan includes filling the beach with a particular type of offshore grain that is compatible with the native beach sand. There will also be a dune made on the west end of the beach.

The initial volume of beach fill is 600,000 cubic yards with 80,000 cubic yards of nourishment every three years, Terchunian said. The total estimated cost for construction alone of this plan is just more than $21 million, Terchunian said.

He said that the construction cost is shared roughly 70 percent by the federal government, 20 percent by the state and 10 percent by local government. But the maintenance-costs share changes to only 50 percent federal, 35 percent state and 15 percent local.

The coastal geologist also said the sand alternative plan is the least expensive to construct, but the most expensive to maintain over time due to the amount of annual sand needed.

He said the Army Corps “did their homework” with the proposals they presented to the board, and he particularly praised the plan for alternative (1) because of the type of offshore sand the Corps planned to use.

Asharoken Trustee Mel Ettinger. Photo by Victoria Espinoza
Asharoken Trustee Mel Ettinger. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

“Looking at these sediments, the Corps made an astute observation,” Terchunian said. “Designing the project with a slightly heavier grain size than exists on beach, from offshore, is an excellent match [to the sand type currently on the beach].”

He said the grain size is “critically important” to the success and endurance of this plan.

In a phone interview on Friday, Asharoken Mayor Greg Letica said the board has concerns with the groin components in the other alternatives presented by the Army Corps.

“We are also concerned about the fact that there is not guaranteed long-term replenishment money which could leave the groins exposed, become a possible eyesore and cause more erosion downstream,” he said.

The main concern of residents and the trustees alike throughout this entire process has been the issue of public access. It is required by the federal government for public access points to be made if government funds are used to help finance the project. Currently, the public is only afforded access of a private beach property below the waterline.

However, if this proposal goes through, the public would have access above the mean high waterline to private properties on the Long Island Sound side.

Letica asked Terchunian if there is anyway Asharoken could get around the additional required public access points. Terchunian said that the Army Corps is not allowed to have any flexibility with the projects they propose, and the U.S. Congress said, “If they spend the money in this location, these are the requirements.”

Local politicians such as Suffolk County Legislator William “Doc” Spencer (D-Centerport) and Huntington Town Supervisor Frank Petrone (D) have written to the Army Corps headquarters asking for the public access points on private property to be reconsidered.

Terchunian has years of experience working with the Army Corps, most notably with the Village of Westhampton Beach for dune restoration.

The need for this project was first introduced by Letica in 2012, in a letter to federal legislators urging them to find funding to protect Asharoken Avenue, which he had called “exposed,” after Sandy and multiple nor’easters continued to reduce the size of the dunes protecting the shore.

The village had until yesterday, Feb. 10, to respond initially to the Army Corps. Letica said the board intends to keep the community completely in the loop as it comes closer to making a decision on whether or not they go forward with a plan.

“We want the board to not make these decisions unilaterally,” he said, adding that the trustees will look into forums like public hearings or public surveys to gauge residents’ desires.

Town and state officials oppose plans to continue dumping dredge waste into the Long Island Sound. File photo

Town and state officials gathered at Cedar Beach on Monday in opposition to the plan by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to continue dumping dredge waste into the Long Island Sound.

The organizations were dumping dredge spoils into the Connecticut River, which spills into the Sound. According to Sen. Ken LaValle spokesman Greg Blower, town and state officials are not sure what chemicals or sediments were disposed of in the river, especially with the variety of manufacturing facilities around that area.

Ten years ago, the organizations were asked to create a plan that would propose an alternative area where they could dump the waste. Officials including Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine (R), Councilwoman Jane Bonner (C-Rocky Point), Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) and LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) received the plan at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday morning, according to Anthony Graves, the town’s chief environmental analyst.

Originally, the officials only had seven days to make public comment on the 1,300-page plan, but after Romaine brought this into question, the date was altered, allowing people to make their comments until Oct. 5.

Graves said the Army Corps of Engineers and the EPA were told in 2005 to create this report, which didn’t address the concerns of town and state officials. According to Bonner, those organizations recommended continuing to deposit the waste in the Sound.

Bonner said, “We have better technology now and we know dredge spoils can be repurposed for capping landfills.”

While there are alternative dumping sites, such as abandoned mines and landfills, Romaine said the organizations opted for a cheaper way.

“The only reason why the Army Corps of Engineers is recommending it is because it’s the cheapest method,” Romaine said. “Shame on them.”

Romaine said the spoils have compromised marine life, including a decline in the fish and shellfish population. He added that the spoils are most heavily contributing to the lobster die-off in the water. Even though the dumping of the waste is from Connecticut, Romaine said, “water bodies like the Sound don’t respect state boundary lines.”

According to Graves, around $1.7 million was spent cleaning the Sound. LaValle said these efforts were a waste of money because the Army Corps of Engineers and the EPA continued to dump dredge waste in the water during the cleanup.

“The two measures really don’t make sense and we have spent 10 years and all that money,” LaValle said. “[It] shows lack of common sense. I think the only thing it did was keep some researchers occupied for 10 years.”

There are two local public hearings, one on Monday, Aug. 24, in Port Jefferson’s Village Center and the other on Tuesday, Aug. 25, at the Long Island Marriott in Uniondale. There will also be hearings in Connecticut.

Registration is required to attend the meetings, and comments can be forwarded no later than Oct. 5.

“We live on an island,” Romaine said. “Many of the waterways on our island are already impacted. We don’t need any more impaired waterways. We need to start improving the Long Island Sound.”

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.”