By G.T. Scarlatos
The future of the Port Jefferson Country Club is still unclear as concern from local residents grows over the East Beach bluff stabilization project. The 170-acre coastline property, purchased by the Village of Port Jefferson in 1978, lies atop the East Beach bluff. The bluff, which has been rapidly eroding, now leaves the clubhouse dangerously close to the edge of the cliff. Without remediation, the significant village asset could fall into the Long Island Sound within years.
Elected officials from the Village of Port Jefferson have been aware of this issue for over half a decade and have been in discussion with the Department of Environmental Conservation, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and teams of coastal engineers to come up with a solution for the pressing matter. In cooperation with GEI Consultants, a Huntington Station-based coastal engineering firm, the village introduced a two-phase stabilization initiative in an effort to curb erosion and restore the bluff.
In 2021, the village obtained a state DEC permit to begin work at the cliff’s base and a $10 million bond was appropriated toward the double-wall system stabilization project. The first phase of the project was completed in the spring of 2023, with the construction of a lower toe retaining wall. But in spite of these efforts, aggressive deforestation, scouring and severe erosion have continued to persist with storms and striking waves wreaking havoc on the bluff. The inadequate efforts to solve the time-sensitive issue has left members of the community alarmed.
“When the construction [of Phase 1] was first done, it looked really good. It was meshed down, the plantings were in place and the toe line was down at the bottom about 4 or 5 feet high,” Myrna Gordon, a Port Jefferson village resident for over 50 years said. “Then it was hit so badly,” she added. “They [the village] had all of the millions and millions of dollars put into the restoration, which sadly have not worked. So, my question to the village is ’What’s next’? What is the plan? Or is there any plan? The environmental change that’s taken place is so noticeable you can see the erosion all over the place, with the gullies and with the terracing.”
Despite growing concerns, the village looks to continue with the start of the initiative’s second phase. Funding for Phase 2 has been made available through FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Assistance grant program, with the village receiving $3.75 million for the proposed upper wall at the country club. The FEMA-funded project will consist of the installation of steel sheeting at the crest of the bluff and a structural tie-back system to offset the heavy weight of the embankment.
“We’re working with FEMA through the process of finalizing the grant application and making sure that we are being responsive to their requirements to secure the grant,” Mayor Lauren Sheprow said. “What we’re all waiting on right now is for FEMA’s approval to move forward with Phase 2.”
Gordon voiced her dissatisfaction with how village officials have handled matters regarding the stabilization project, saying, “This has been a very sensitive issue with our board and there has been very little communication going back and forth with the residents. Many of us wanted a referendum addressing what should be done with a bluff, which we never got.”
“The village has to act quickly,” Gordon urged. “They need to stop looking at the clubhouse as this sentimental structure that meant so much to their lives and face the hard facts. They’re not dealing with the environmental crisis along our shoreline in the best possible way, they’re dealing with it with emotion and sentimentality.”