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Aug 12, 2014 2:21 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Communication Still An Issue With Quogue Beach Rebuilding Effort

Aug 12, 2014 5:31 PM

Quogue residents from two opposing groups butted heads on Sunday following another informational forum—the third of its kind since the summer began—spurred by a proposal to spend up to $15 million to rebuild the village’s entire 2.7-mile oceanfront.

The event was sponsored by the Concerned Citizens of Quogue, a group formed in the wake of the creation of the Save the Dunes and Beaches Foundation; the latter’s membership is made up mostly of Dune Road homeowners who are pushing for the beach work and sharing its costs with all village residents. Sunday’s meeting was intended to focus on coastal management in general, according to organizers.

But immediately following a 45-minute presentation led by New York Times science writer Cornelia Dean, who argued for a regional approach to tackling the myriad issues related to the eroding coastline—including rising sea levels and a higher frequency of devastating storms—those in attendance began asking questions about beach nourishment projects and the feasibility of such an effort in Quogue.

Ms. Dean, who was hired to speak by the Concerned Citizens of Quogue, said she did not have any specific answers about the village’s situation or what would be the best option to pursue. Ms. Dean, along with the experts brought in earlier this summer by Quogue’s other coastal management nonprofit group, Save the Dunes and Beaches Foundation, or SDBF, said she had not looked at specific data as it relates to Quogue’s oceanfront. Rather, she said she could speak only from general knowledge of past storms and beach nourishment projects already completed on other beaches, including those in Florida and Cape Cod.

Tension has risen between the two community groups, most recently on Sunday, when Robert Friedman, a Dune Road homeowner and a member of the SDBF, asked why members of the two groups had not met in months to try to reach a consensus on the issue. He was abruptly silenced by several of the estimated 60 audience members—including many members of the Concerned Citizens of Quogue, or CCQ—who essentially drowned out his question and, ultimately, abruptly ended the presentation.

“All I was trying to say in my question was that we need to have a dialogue,” Mr. Friedman said when reached after the meeting, held at Village Hall. “We need to sit down and come to a consensus.”

Though they insist that their group is not opposed to a beach nourishment project, CCQ Directors Bob and Joan Larson said Sunday that they do not believe that a $15 million beach nourishment project—like the one that could soon be proposed for Quogue—is necessary at this time. That sentiment was echoed by some members of their group who were in attendance for Sunday’s meeting.

“I live on the beach, too,” said Connie Buckley, a member of the CCQ who also lives on Dune Road. “I’ve seen the beach rebuild itself for the past 42 years. They say I might have to move my house in 50 years, but I’m not worried about it right now.”

An application funded by the SDBF has already been filed with the State Department of Environmental Conservation, which is expected to make a decision on it this fall. The Quogue Village Board, which has encouraged the group to file the application since it is also taking on the estimated $100,000 in filing fees, has not yet stated publicly if it supports the project.

A considerable breach in the process, according to critics on both sides, has been the lack of open discussion regarding how the project, if ultimately approved, would be financed. Though they have not shared their ideas with the public, it is clear that SDBF would like for all village residents—and not just those on Dune Road—to finance the work that calls for pumping an estimated 1.1 million cubic yards of sand from the ocean floor and onto the village beach, with the goal of widening the shoreline by about 60 feet.

The third and final informational forum sponsored by the SDBF, which will focus on the financial aspects of the plan, is scheduled for this Saturday, August 16, at 10 a.m., at Village Hall.

On Sunday, however, the lines were clearly drawn in the sand, with SDBF members arguing that the project is a proactive way to shore up the village’s coastline, while CCQ representatives countered that such a large-scale project is not necessary right now and, therefore, more time should be invested on researching different and possibly cheaper options.

Representatives of both sides met over the winter, prior to an application being filed with the DEC, but parted ways before reaching any sort of consensus. Vita Reinoso, who is a member of the CCQ and also lives on Dune Road, attended that meeting and said no progress was made because the two factions differ greatly in their opinions. The lack of progress from that meeting could explain why Mr. Friedman was shushed when inquiring why the two sides have never scheduled a second meeting.

In an email sent to The Press on Monday, Michael Reinoso, Ms. Reinoso’s husband and also a member of the CCQ, said he understands why members of the SDBF have grown weary of discussions.

“We understand that members of the SDBF are frustrated with our unwillingness to meet with them in private, though they must understand our position that these discussions absolutely must take place in public,” he wrote in an email. “Our mission is to educate about the problem and insist that there be transparency and public input into the process of evaluating the problem and any potential solutions (and especially solutions that might cost upward of $14 million!).”

At a SDBF forum held in June, a member of the community asked another important question—namely, how the group plans to fund the project—and was abruptly stonewalled by members of the SDBF who refused to answer the question. That confrontation also ended that gathering.

As part of her presentation, Ms. Dean argued that a regional approach—and not one focusing solely on Quogue’s 2.7 miles of beaches—is needed as every town and municipality that sits along the ocean must soon address erosion and the issues it creates.

“We have to reconcile ourselves and realize that all bets are off,” she said. “We need to start having conversations ... so that we can make a good plan. If we’re going to do this parcel by parcel, it’s not going to work.”

But those living in Bridgehampton, Water Mill and Sagaponack might have a different opinion. Earlier this year, the final touches were put on a $26 million beach nourishment program that pumped some 1.6 million cubic yards along six miles of beach stretching from Flying Point Beach in Water Mill to just east of Sagg Main Beach in Sagaponack Village. The town contributed only $1.5 million to the project; the remainder was borrowed and will be repaid over the next 10 years through a special tax levied on the 122 beachfront property owners who live within the project area.

After that work was completed in February, crews moved to the west and helped widen a nearly 1,000-foot stretch of beachfront in Hampton Bays with the additional 500 tons of sand. That work cost $7 million and was financed with Hurricane Sandy federal aid.

Many Quogue residents unaffiliated with either group in their village said they agreed with Ms. Dean’s take on the situation, though several asked what can be done to address the issue.

“If there does need to be action, it needs to be the most environmentally and economically sound action,” said Lori Utter of Quogue. “I do think we have to come together and form a consensus.”

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