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West Meadow Beach Cottages

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The former cottage two buildings over from the ranger’s house on West Meadow Beach has been demolished after snow earlier in the season caused the roof to cave in further than it had been. Photo by Herb Mones

While taking a walk along West Meadow Beach, something he does on a regular basis, Paul Feinberg noticed something different — one of the cottages by the ranger’s house was missing.

The Setauket resident said one day the cottage two buildings over from the ranger’s home was there, and by Feb. 16, it was gone. It’s something he is happy about. 

The only evidence was a work truck in the nearby vicinity with a sign that read: “We make things disappear.”

“That one they removed, that was just an accident waiting to happen,” Feinberg said. “When the roof caved in, that’s one thing for someone to get in there, but then the whole side of it caved in. It was just a mess.”

Town of Brookhaven attorney Annette Eaderesto said the town demolished the cottage. Snow earlier in the season further collapsed the roof, according to Eaderesto.

Feinberg said he believed Brookhaven Town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright’s (D-Port Jefferson Station) office was instrumental in having the structure removed.

Two cottages formerly sat near the ranger’s station on West Meadow Beach. The cottage on the right was demolished Feb. 16. File photo

At a June 5 Three Village Civic Association Meeting, Cartright updated the civic association members about the town’s preliminary assessment of the four cottages at West Meadow Beach. The councilwoman said after an internal evaluation it appeared two of the cottages were dilapidated and structurally unsound, and possibly not salvageable. However, there was the potential to save a third structure and use another as an outdoor interpretive kiosk. Only four of the historic cottages that once lined the beach remained after 2004, when the town removed nearly 100 to make way for West Meadow Wetlands Reserve.

Cartright said she was following standard operating procedure and had asked for an independent engineer to assess the cottages, and the town had complied with her request.

“I wanted to make sure if these cottages are coming down that we have a report from someone outside of the town telling us that is necessary,” she said at the June 5 meeting.

At the meeting, Robert Reuter, a member of the town’s historic district advisory committee, asked that the committee be advised about any future plans regarding the cottages on the beach. Reuter said Feb. 20 he was saddened to learn about the demolition of the structure, and the committee was not notified about it.

Reuter said he wouldn’t recommend any remaining cottages be demolished, and he feels the beach structures can be preserved without spending a great deal of money. When the town renovated the ranger’s home, it cost approximately $500,000, according to Cartright. Reuter said the former summer homes were built with no basements or hard foundations, which allows water to easily wash through underneath. The structures were built to easily be closed up each year. To preserve such a home it has to be made as weather-tight as possible, according to Reuter, to keep rainwater from penetrating the structure. He would have suggested the roof be repaired and windows bordered up.

“It wouldn’t be hard if there was the commitment to do it, it wouldn’t be hard to keep them from falling down.” Reuter said. “It’s really demolition by neglect, pure and simple.”

A steam shovel fills a waiting dump truck to distribute sand along West Meadow Beach. By Donna Newman

Winter strolls along West Meadow Beach have been put on hold to avoid future environmental and boating problems.

Since Dec. 4, the Town of Brookhaven beach and Trustees Road in Stony Brook have been closed to the public. The town’s parks  department made the decision to accommodate an ongoing Suffolk County dredging project.

“It was the determination of the law and parks departments to close the beach due to safety and liability issues,” town Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) said. “Resident safety is paramount to the town.”

While the dredging project is in effect, multiple trucks and dredging equipment will be accessing the beach, which could potentially cause dangerous situations for visitors if the beach remained open.

Dredging is nothing new for Long Island waterways, according to Larry Swanson, interim dean and associate dean of the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences and director of the Waste Reduction and Management Institute at Stony Brook University. The sediment dredged from the depths of waterways is added to beaches to nourish the shorelines, which in turn helps to slow down erosion and protects structures from rising sea levels and storm surges. He said dredging projects are ideally done in the winter to protect marine organisms, which aren’t as active during the season as they are in warmer months. He said the currents are typically strong where the county is dredging, which most likely will produce clean sand and gravel.

Swanson said Long Beach in Smithtown, which is located slightly west of the Stony Brook beach and regularly needs dredging material, is progressing to the east/northeast about 1 yard per year.

“What that does as it progresses, it tends to cause the currents to eat into West Meadow Beach,” he said. “So when that happens, sometimes there’s a cut that forms in West Meadow Beach.”

The dean said it is ideal to fill up the cut so it doesn’t keep eroding, as there’s a possibility in 20 years that it could break into West Meadow creek.

“The preservation of beaches as we know them is somewhat depending upon this source of dredge material,” Swanson said.

The dean said dredging is done for other reasons, too.

“The channel coming into Stony Brook Harbor fills up to the point where the low water depth is no more than 1 or 2 feet, and most boats that enter Stony Brook Harbor have a draft in excess of 1 or 2 feet and so they hit bottom,” Swanson said. “People don’t want to damage their boats.”

West Meadow Beach is expected to reopen on or about Jan. 1, according to a statement from Brookhaven Town.

A motor boat heads toward Shipman’s Point at West Meadow Beach. File photo.

The history of West Meadow beach is a contentious one. Cottages leased to private citizens left a large portion of the beach unavailable to the public throughout the years. A headline in the Port Jefferson Echo newspaper June 19, 1930, read “West Meadow Beach Cottages To Be Ousted By January 1940.” According to Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), removal of the cottages was a cyclical issue. Every decade or so there was a public outcry for a return of the beach to all Brookhaven citizens.

“This had become the norm by the 1960s,” he said.

When Englebright proposed legislation in June 1996, there was significant opposition from cottage owners who fought to keep the beach as it was. Since state legislation could only be established over the Brookhaven Town-owned property with the town’s express permission, a document called a “home rule message” had to be obtained before the legislation could move forward. Under then Town Supervisor Felix Grucci (R), the town agreed.

Even so, the opposition from cottage owners continued.

Bipartisan legislation [then Senator James Lack (R) sponsored the bill in the New York State Senate] was signed in 1996 stating West Meadow Beach “be preserved, protected, enhanced, and studied while simultaneously being made available for use by the general public for educational and passive recreational activities.” It stipulated the cottages be removed “on or before Jan. 15, 2005.” Removal of the cottages would be funded by payments from cottage owners for the use of the land over the following eight years. Interest accrued on the account, holding these payments were to be transferred annually into a separate account, previously established by the town July 6, 1993, called the West Meadow Beach capital restoration fund. This money was to be kept separately, overseen by a nonprofit Stony Brook community fund.

“When my husband Peter died last year I wrote to the town offering to fund the installation of a bench in his memory.”
—Muriel Weyl

The Stony Brook community fund became The Ward Melville Heritage Organization in 1996 and, according to a long-term board member of the organization, the town never came to them with a proposal. Since then it’s unclear who has been overseeing this money.

Attorney George Locker, a Stony Brook University graduate and former member of the Stony Brook Environmental Conservancy, believes the town is in breach of the statute.

“When the [Stony Brook community fund disbanded] instead of finding another third party to handle the funds, the town took control of the money,” Locker said. “The only thing I could find [after requesting all filings related to this account] was an invasive species plant removal.

“It took 20 years to elevate the Gamecock Cottage. At least one cottage was to be turned into a nature museum.

“[According to information provided by the town’s Department of Finance] the money is earning [virtually] no interest. The town has a fiduciary duty to grow the money in some safe way.”

Brookhaven Town spokesperson Jack Krieger provided the following information about investments in an email.

“The New York State Comptroller and New York State Municipal Law define what type of investments are acceptable for a municipality to engage,” he said. “The special New York State Law governing the WMB endowment made no special provisions for investment of the monies; therefore, the investment of the monies have been subject to the municipal law guidelines. The interest rate for the endowment account, and all town bank accounts, are monitored constantly by the finance department.”

Stony Brook resident Muriel Weyl said she is distressed by the lack of bench seating along the paved walk out to Shipman’s Point.

“When my husband Peter died last year I wrote to the town offering to fund the installation of a bench in his memory,” she said. “He was an oceanographer, and a founder of what is now the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook and I thought it would be fitting. They would not do it.”

She said she loves spending time at West Meadow Beach, and now that she uses a wheelchair she can be seated while enjoying the walk. When she was still walking, she said it was difficult because there were not enough benches to enable her to make it out to the Point. Even now, she said, “it would be nice for the person pushing my chair to have a place to sit.”

Krieger said there was a period of time several years ago where the town allowed residents to dedicate a bench with a memorial plaque if they paid all of the costs for the bench and its installation. This has since been discontinued.

He said he had no answer as to the question why there are not more benches.

Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) recently sent a letter to Englebright offering to work together to solve issues regarding funding and oversight of the West Meadow Nature Preserve.