An ongoing issue between the Southampton Village Board and the Southampton Town Trustees is coming to a head — a bulkhead.
Acrimony between the two governing bodies has grown since Superstorm Sandy, which highlighted vulnerabilities of Southampton Village's beaches. While the Village Board searches for ways to prevent the next big storm from washing houses into the ocean, village officials have viewed the town trustees' policies as an impediment.
Thursday night, during a Village Board meeting, Mayor Mark Epley went as far as saying the trustees are "stealing" the village's sand and selling it, through sand mining occurring east of the village. Town Trustee Fred Havemeyer on Friday called the allegation "absolutely ridiculous.”
The town trustees — who have oversight of the town's waterways and the ocean beachfront from the high water mark to the crest of the dune, including within incorporated villages — have a longstanding policy against any new bulkheads on Southampton's shores. The trustees argue that the science shows that hardening the shoreline leads to the narrowing of beaches, as the sand that is seaside of a bulkhead gets washed away. Plus, unhardened properties to the west and east of a bulkhead become more vulnerable.
The Trustees say that recently the village illicitly permitted a new bulkhead to be put in, though village officials say the bulkhead was a perfectly legal replacement of a pre-existing structure.
Village officials say that replacing a bulkhead is allowed under New York State Department of Environmental Conservation regulations.
The bulkhead is in front of a private home near Little Plains Beach. There is a short, wooden bulkhead that was pre-existing and still stands. The steel bulkhead is landward of the shorter bulkhead.
The trustees said that the much taller steel bulkhead is not a permitted replacement for the short bulkhead. However, Epley said that after thinking the same thing, Village Building Inspector Jon Foster showed him photos that illustrated that the steel bulkhead was being put in place of a pre-existing tall bulkhead — not the shorter one. He said that in the wake of Superstorm Sandy the DEC is allowing bulkhead replacements, as long as the new bulkheads are no more than 18 inches taller.
Havemeyer said the village is not, in fact, in compliance with the DEC regulation. He said that, firstly, a bulkhead must have been damaged to be replaced; a bulkhead that survived Sandy intact is not eligible for replacement. "Nowhere was a bulkhead jeopardized by the storm."
Secondly, he said that the taller of the two bulkheads was not a bulkhead at all. “That's nonsense," he said. "There was some flimsy wood staving that was put there [to hold back the dune] ... It was in no way, shape or form a bulkhead.”
Havemeyer says he knows this because a few years ago a homeowner there applied to the trustees for a bulkhead, was told no, and the application was withdrawn.
Regarding Epley's accusation of stealing sand, Havemeyer said the mayor is "talking nonsense."
Epley said that, because sand drifts from east to west, if the trustees stopped mining sand at Mecox Bay, it would eventually come to Southampton Village and replenish the beaches. But Havemeyer said the sand the trustees are selling to private companies for beach nourishment is not part of the drifting sand system.
“The sand that we are mining is way up in Mecox Bay," Havemeyer said. "It's not in the system; it's in the bay.”
He said the sand must be dug out for the sake of the bay. "Sand forms a delta and chokes out the bay, making it shallower." He added that all the sand the trustees are selling is going back on the beach, back into the system.
The Village Board brought in coastal geologist Aram Terchunian of First Coastal in Westhampton to Thursday's meeting to present an analysis of the state of the village's shoreline. He too criticized the trustees' opposition to bulkheading. He said, “You have to use all the tools that are in the toolbox. You can’t just discard them because you have a philosophy.”
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