Severe erosion is threatening the existence of Reel Point, a Shelter Island peninsula that is home to an eight-acre wildlife preserve owned by the non-profit Peconic Land Trust.
Shoring up the beach with large rocks, mulch, and new vegetation may be the most effective solution, and new construction drawings of the property will begin the process of securing work permits from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.
At a Shelter Island Town Board meeting on March 27, town engineer John Cronin told the board that the town and the PLT have agreed to share an approximately $14,000 bill that will cover the new drawings, which essentially serves as the start of the long and expensive process of shoring up the area.
“We have an agreement with the land trust to split that cost 50/50. The construction plans will tell us what we need to do at Reel Point and will provide information on contouring and elevations, allowing us to better estimate the amount of material we need,” Cronin said. “Bottom line is, those drawings would ultimately become the basis for permitting to do the work that’s necessary out there.”
Although erosion at Reel Point is nothing new, it’s significantly advanced thanks to this year’s series of nor’easters, motivating town officials to take action.
Continued damage to the area threatens not only local businesses and homes, but also the habitat of migratory birds and butterflies, including osprey, piping plovers, and monarchs. The peninsula, which emerges from the southern tip of Big Ram Island, is also home to American beach grass, seaside goldenrod, and bayberry.
At the meeting, Councilman Jim Colligan said that if Reel Point were lost, the town could face costs in the realm of $25 million.
Erosion at Reel Point has been a long term concern. In 2016, the town board passed a resolution to grant the PLT half of the cost of conducting a study and developing a management plan for Reel Point. Last summer, they commissioned a $40,000 report from the consulting and engineering firms First Coastal Corporations and Lockwood, Kessler & Barlett Inc. to investigate the situation, write a report, and suggest the most effective action plan.
“We’re essentially calling that a shoreline management plan. From that, we knew what we needed to do out there on the most cost-effective basis,” Cronin said. He added that the next step is implementing the plan and the construction drawings would refine it.
Cronin said that since the management plan was completed, recent nor’easters have caused much more beach erosion along the eastern and western shores of Reel Point. In fact, recent material loss is so significant, that the way in which the plan is executed may vary greatly from the original.
Other effort to find a solution includes Cronin contacting the Army Corps of Engineers, a federal agency under the Department of Defense that is one of the largest public engineering, design, and construction management agencies, to alert them of the issue.
Matt Swain, stewardship manager of the PLT, was at the meeting and said the non-profit successfully worked with the Army Corps on other projects. Additionally, Supervisor Gary Gerth said he had spoken to Congressman Lee Zeldin’s office to ask if he could inspire the corps to consider helping with Reel Point.
One possibility the town is considering for erosion reduction is to spend $4 million for beach restoration and a barrier of heavy cobblestones “to break wave action and absorb wave energy,” Cronin said.
Town officials have also pitched the idea of utilizing workers from the town’s Public Works Department to reduce costs. However, material costs would still be high and how they would be funded is uncertain.
Since Hurricane Sandy, the PLT has worked with the town to replenish Reel Point with dredge materials from nearby Coecles Harbor and Gardiner’s Bay, along with plant materials purchased and installed with funds raised from donations from Shelter Island residents. The peninsula of Reel Point was donated to the PLT in 1995 by Marsha and Herb Stern.