Hundreds of Montauk surfers took to the beach and to the water last week, forming a massive circle that stretched from the sand out into the cold lineup, in protest of the Army Corp of Engineers' impending construction of a massive sandbag wall, a short-term solution meant to replenish the beach's sand and protect coastal properties.
Paid for through a federal post-Sandy relief fund, the 8.9-million-dollar plan—named the Downtown Montauk Emergency Stabilization Project—calls for 14,000 1.7-ton geotextile sandbags to be placed along more than a half-mile of shoreline just east of the naturally occurring dunes, which will be covered with a meter of sand. There's a long-term plan being developed, but this stage is an "emergency" effort to slow down erosion until a larger beach renourishment project can be completed.
The Surfrider Foundation has come out against the plan, after several coastal geologists looked at it. Surfrider posits that the plan will contribute to the beach's diminishment and destruction, and "prioritizes the value and protection of privately owned commercial structures over that of the public beach."
In a press release from Surfrider’s Eastern Long Island Chapter, the group claims they "are not opposed to projects whose goal is to protect private property. Our argument has been that any project designed to protect private property on our ocean beaches must not harm or compromise our public beach. This project proposes a 50-foot-wide sandbag seawall on our public beach, essentially destroying that public resource."
Much of the discussion oscillates wildly around whether the geotextile bags are to be considered hard structures, such as groins or boardwalks or jetties.
"I've always defined a hard structure as a cement wall, a rock revetment, or a stone jetty," said East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell. "Sand-filled geotubes, to me, may not be indestructible, which is obviously a concern. But it is removable."
"Reflected wave energy from the geotextile bags will quickly erode the public beach," Mr. Bottini told Hamptons' 27 East news. "We also note that the motels were constructed many years ago on top of the existing primary dune, destroying that precious natural resource. The bags will get exposed, because it's a bump-out into the ocean, and not where the dune wants to naturally lay."
Kelly Slater came out on social media, posting a photo of the East End beach construction scene, saying [Sic] "I can’t help but think (know) that people who spend their lives on beaches (or any other stretch of land for that matter) watching the patterns for decades should have a say in altering it. People have a bad habit of building homes and condos near beaches that are on sand dunes and then want ‘protection’ from the oceans and elements. I’m not sure why humans want to control nature. It’s incredible that taxpayer money gets used to protect private homes/condos from natural environmental patterns."
The project's been in the planning stages for several years, but only last week— after excavators began digging up beach sand and scooping it into the dunes—did many locals realize the actual scope of the project.
More than 200 people came out to join the protest, with several being arrested for disorderly conduct, including event organizer James Katsipis, after they refused police orders to leave the scene.
This morning Katsipis was joined by more than 400 others, at a town board meeting. The meeting had to be moved from the town’s fire department to a nearby gymnasium to accommodate the group.
“We packed out the gym,” Katsipis told us as he was walking out of the meeting. “We are asking that the Army Corp stop digging immediately, so we can get our bearings and think of a better plan. We’re doing damage control. And the town board is up in arms. Nowhere in the [Army Corp of Engineers’] plan was the destruction of that dune. That’s one of our biggest dunes, and they tore right into it.”
Katsipis echoed Surfrider’s position that the geotextile bags are a terribly short-sighted solution.
“It’s old medicine that doesn’t work,” Katsipis said. “Those bags are filled with dirt. It's not even sand. They're not ocean tested, they're fucking plastic bags. It's a complete shitshow.”
As of this writing, the town board is exploring ways to pump the brakes on the project without incurring any fines or financial repercussions from the Army Corp of Engineers, who is contracted with the project.
“We still have to protect Montauk,” Katsipis said. “And we will. We have these pristine beaches, that are our cash crop during the summer. We have to rebuild that dune and start planting immediately.”
Until then, Katsipis and supporters will be fighting with everything they have to keep the project from incurring any more damage to the dune.
“We have a list of people going out there, protesting, who are planning on getting arrested, and they’ll be there every day until it stops.”