Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman is thankful for one thing this holiday: sand.
After declaring four states of emergency over the past two months following a storm surge and breach along Dune Road in Hampton Bays last month, town and Suffolk County resources have been deployed to mitigate the problem, but state and federal help is needed. Scheiderman, along with Senator Chuck Schumer and Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, gathered at Dune Road on Tuesday, November 26 to discuss the continuing concerns.
According to Schumer, after speaking with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Commander and District Engineer for New York Colonel Thomas Asbery November 25, a dredge should soon be on the way.
“They don’t need new money and they don’t need new legislation, because the law that we passed — public law 8499 — says the Army Corps has the right to step up and dig in and undo the damage that occurred last month,” he said on Dune Road Tuesday. “We are asking the Army Corps and I asked Colonel Asbery last night to use the law to fix what has happened — to fix things here in the Town of Southampton . . . We can’t wait for next year’s federal budget.”
Under the law the Army Corps can send a dredger currently in operation replenishing the Fire Island to Moriches Inlet Stabilization Project to repair the West Shinnecock Inlet’s Interim Storm Damage Reduction Project.
Schneiderman issued his first local state of emergency September 10 citing an imminent breach. Heavy duty Suffolk County Department of Public Works equipment was hauled in to shore up and essentially rebuild the 750-foot dune across the street from the Shinnecock Commercial Fishing Dock. Subtropical storm Melissa had battered the barrier island and almost washed away the entire dune with its high tide. Schneiderman said two weeks ago, following yet another storm, he couldn’t believe what he saw.
“This beach was as flat as the road was, and we had wind and waves moving right across Dune Road into the Shinnecock Commercial Fishing Dock right across the street,” the supervisor said. “We were struggling to prevent a breach.”
At that time, Suffolk County moved 200 truckloads of sand overnight in the dark and rain. At 3000 cubic yards, it got the town through several storm high tides. But it washed out again and again as more storms continue to wallop the south shore and erode any protections put in place.
“The creation of that manmade dune was almost a Herculean effort,” Schneiderman added. “But it’s all gone now.”
Earlier in the day November 26, Congressman Lee Zeldin and Suffolk County Department of Public Works Chief Engineer William Hillman carried out a site visit of Dune Road, and Zeldin said his office has been in frequent contact with the Army Corps regarding the county’s reimbursement request for prior and ongoing work.
Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said it’s not common, and not often that work like that’s been done happens on such a local level.
“We prevented a disaster from occurring, but that is not sustainable and it’s not something we can continue to handle,” he said. “That is why the partnership with our federal government is so important.”
“It’s been a project for all of us for decades to get the kind of protection we need to preserve the dunes, preserve the south bay, all of the inlets, and the south shore mainland,” Schumer added. “When Superstorm Sandy hit we worked hard to get lots of help to not just restore what was lost, but provide resilience. And we did. But when storms come and undo some of the work that was done we can’t just sit there and twiddle our thumbs — we’ve got to get to work.”
This has actually been a recurring issue since 1938, when the Shinnecock Inlet was created to stabilize the area as a result of a breach. The federal inlet was protected with jetties, but sand is trapped on the far side where the beach is much wider, which has resulted in the loss of 600 feet of beach.
This month 90,000 yards have been moved with the help of the Suffolk County Department of Transportation, Department of Environmental Conservation, and Town of Southampton. The efforts are still ongoing.
“We are united, we are together when it comes to protecting our coastline and all that we love and cherish about living on Long Island,” Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone said. “This is about our quality of life, but it’s also about our economy. You have the commercial fishing dock, you have businesses here, you have residents here that are impacted by this. It’s important that this emergency replenishment project happens.”
Schneiderman said the work completed this week will not get the town through the winter. He said more in the ballpark of 800,000 yards of sand is needed.
“We’re in a desperate situation trying to prevent another breach,” Schneiderman said. “And it’s not just a commercial dock that sits here, we’ve got a commercial fish-packing operation, three restaurants, a county park at the end of the street. This is way beyond the resources of the Town of Southampton and this is beyond the resources of Suffolk County.”
That’s why the supervisor is grateful to be talking turkey with state and federal agencies to prevent further deterioration. While the dredger will most likely not get to Hampton Bays in time for the Thanksgiving Day storm, he said the dredger could protect the beach for years if not decades.
“We have been pleading and our prayers are answered by the fact that Senator Chuck Schumer is making the request that the Army Corps brings in the dredge,” Schneiderman said. “This Thanksgiving I’m particularly thankful for all the partners the town has at the county, the state, and the federal level. I’m cautiously optimistic that the news is good, that we’ll see the dredge appear and get out of this very precarious situation we’ve found ourselves in.”