The wants to get its hands on the Town Trustees’ sand reserves to reduce the cost of the replenishment of , but the Trustees are wading carefully, saying that giving away a valuable commodity for free could jeopardize their standing when they defend their authority in court.
During a Friday meeting, Southampton Town Chief Environmental Analyst Marty Shea and First Coastal Corporation President Aram Terchunian explained how mid-January storms battered the Bridgehampton beach, and the dunes in particular. The damage has already claimed the stairs to the beach, and without intervention the erosion will only get worse and threaten beach access and infrastructure, including the public restroom and 133-car parking lot, they explained.
Shea said that there was an overwash into the parking lot during Tropical Storm Irene, but the dune held. But then during January, two thirds of the dune was lost to storms.
The Parks & Recreation Department is looking to renourish the beach and reconstruct the dune line. But bringing in sand — between buying it and hauling it from a sand mine — can be prohibitively costly. Parks & Recreation Superintendent Chris Bean is asking the Trustees to grant access to a surplus of sand a mile away at the Mecox Inlet delta, which the Trustees own. Under the Dongan Patent, a 1686 document that the Trustees derive their authority from, they control the bay bottoms in Southampton Town, up to the high water mark.
The estimated cost of the emergency beach renourishment is $90,000, but Bean estimated that if the Trustees contribute the sand for free, the cost would be reduced to $54,000.
Two years ago, the Trustees started selling sand from the Mecox Inlet delta to private companies for $7.50 per cubic yard, with the caveat that the sand stays in the South Shore beach system. The Trustees said they use the proceeds to fund projects — such as dredging, bulkheading and fish stocking — that they could not afford otherwise because their budget has been slashed in recent years by 20 percent as the town’s belt has tightened.
Fred Havemeyer, the Trustee responsible for Mecox Bay, said the Trustees brought in $200,000 by selling sand in 2011.
Eric Shultz, the president of the Trustees, said they have to be careful about how they manage their assets, because the Trustees’ authority and the Dongan Patent often come under fire. He noted that the Trustees recently had two court victories concerning a land dispute in West Hampton Dunes Village.
“The reason why we won those cases was on sound financial management and doing everything by the book,” Shultz said.
“We’re asking you to look at this as a town partnership,” Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst told the Trustees. “We are without funds, as we all know.”
“All we’re asking for is a little bit of sand so that recreation can be had by the residents who pay our salaries,” Bean said.
After the meeting, Havemeyer said that Bean’s characterization of the Trustees’ position is unfair. He questioned why they would give a town department a commodity for free, while the departments typically charge each other for services. For example, he said, the Highway Department pays the Waste Management Department to accept leaves.
Shultz said the town will ultimately get the sand it needs, but he just wants to ensure the agreement will not jeopardize future court cases and the Trustees’ ability to continue to sell the sand.
“The last thing the Trustees want to do is withhold sand from the people,” Havemeyer said.
Shultz proposed a trade of services in kind, such as the town helping the Trustees raze an old building slated to come down.
The town aims to have the renourishment project done before April 1, the start of the nesting season for piping plovers, a protected endangered bird species.
Recent Mecox Beach Erosion
First Coastal President Aram Terchunian explained the timeline of the erosion, which can be seen in photos attached to this post:
• Starting in March 2010, there is a wide, sandy beach, with a large, well vegetated dune. Note that you can see the buried sand fence in front of the dune collecting windblown sand.
• By January 2011, the fence is gone and only the posts are left . (The fence is 4 feet high and the posts are longer). Now there is a steep vertical scarp or cliff where the beach grass ends and the sand begins. You can see clumps of beach grass at the toe of this scarp that have fallen down from the top.
• Finally, in December 2011, there is almost no dune left and the high tide is going right up to the base of the eroded scarp. Notice how the stairs have partially collapsed and there is no way to get up the vehicle path as it is a sheer drop. You can also see some darker soil at the base of the eroded dune, which is the mainland being exposed. Notice that the erosion is almost up to the brown bushes in front of the lifeguard shack, whereas in 2010, there was a wide, well vegetated dune in front of the bushes.