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Sep 14, 2012 4:13 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Funding, Remaining Questions Continue To Shelve Shoreline Study

Sep 19, 2012 9:28 AM

Federal and local officials swore in 2010 that the completion of a study of coastal erosion issues along Long Island’s oceanfront, already decades overdue, was near, and that the document would be before the public soon, despite the cancelation of two of three public presentations.

But the Fire Island to Montauk Point Reformulation Study, better known as FIMPS, which is supposed to offer solutions in addition to detailing the erosion, is still floundering in bureaucratic channels, with substantial questions still remaining. That includes who would pay for the anticipated work to address erosion, which is expected to cost between $600 million and $800 million.

Those obstacles leave the future of the study in murky waters, even as U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials say they hope to have their end of the study wrapped up by early this winter.

“I can’t say I’ve heard anything about it in, maybe, the last year and a half,” State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. of Sag Harbor said of FIMPS. “There were a number of hang-ups, not the least of which is funding, at the federal level anyway. It has just limped along—the funding for it is never in the presidents’ budgets, and Congress only restores some funding sometimes, it seems.”

The draft study offers a host of recommendations, such as the installation of giant mechanical sand-bypass systems at Shinnecock and Moriches inlets and sand nourishment projects in Montauk, Sagaponack and Hampton Bays. It was delivered to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation in late 2010. The DEC bounced the study back to the Army Corps, however, with a host of questions and requests for more clarification of various details of the findings and recommendations, particularly seeking alternatives to some of the most costly suggestions.

The Army Corps is still pulling together the information that the state has asked for, according to Stephen Couch, one of the Army Corps engineers who has been working on the final phases of the study.

The glacial pace of progress on the report is nothing new. The study was first commissioned in 1980 as an ambitious initiative to develop a comprehensive database of the forces at work along eastern Long Island’s economically critical ocean beaches, as well as a catalog of potential efforts that would ensure their survival while protecting the private property interests of the residents and businesses that occupy the beachfront.

The complexity of the interests and forces at play certainly was behind the length of time the study took to advance to near-completion. Conflicts between the priorities of the Army Corps and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service about some of the project’s approaches to combating erosion caused further delays in recent years. And some of the recommendations will certainly prompt battles yet to be fought.

“One of the recommendations is that towns be asked to change their zoning to not allow rebuilding where property is lost to erosion,” Mr. Thiele noted. “Which, as you can imagine, would be a controversial thing out here.”

But chronic funding shortages, as the costs of the study climbed year after year, eventually reaching into the tens of millions of dollars, slowed the project as well, particularly as it neared completion during President George W. Bush’s administration, when war spending was pushing federal budgets into the stratosphere and fiscal hawks began fretting over federal deficits.

The first drafts of the study, and its sprawling recommendations, were rolled out in 2010, and some local officials, like U.S. Representative Tim Bishop, caught glimpses of the suggestions for maintaining the beaches. The study called for massive sand nourishment projects along the Fire Island beachfront but only smaller projects in Hampton Bays, Sagaponack and Montauk. The study specifically recommends further shortening of the stone groins in Westhampton Beach and a continuation of the aggressive sand nourishment in the area. To the east, in Hampton Bays, the study recommends continuing the smaller intermittent beach filling projects just west of the Shinnecock Inlet, just enough to protect against a breach of the barrier beaches in the event of a severe storm.

Along the 35 miles of shoreline east of the Shinnecock Inlet in particular, the Army Corps recommendations find only small-scale work as worthwhile from a government cost-benefit basis.

“We have to show the benefits exceed the cost,” Mr. Couch said. “To the west, [bolstering beaches] protects the mainland too, because it protects against breaching.”

In Sagaponack, Mr. Couch noted, there were substantial reservations about expending substantial funds on the part of the federal agency, primarily because those benefitting from the work would include only wealthy oceanfront homeowners. The study recommends creating stockpiles of sand at the western reaches of Sagaponack and Montauk, simply to add some sand to the natural flows that have been interrupted by groins at Georgica Beach and Ditch Plains.

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Gross bureaucratic incompetence.

Reminds me of when the IRS tried to tell me I owed taxes on over 35k worth of securities, because they only collected the trading of stock purchase data not the sales data from TDAmeritrade. I actually had posted a loss that year, but they chose to accuse me of owing them thousands with only half the applicable data, and a lack of properly vetting their "evidence" anyway. Ironically, these are the people who think they can "run things" better than you...
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Sep 22, 12 5:32 AM
1 member liked this comment
you cannot fool mother nature and this would be a folly of an action. the ocean does as the ocean does and man cannot stop it. if this goes through the OF owners will no doubt claim it is 'their beach since they paid for it" so don't be fooled bby the attempts to make more beach it will not work except temporarly
By xtiego (698), bridgehampton on Sep 22, 12 8:21 PM