Fearing another nor’easter similar to the, talk from federal officials of long-term solutions to prevent further property damage and beach erosion along delicate points on the Long Island Sound in Southold did anything but please a crowd of about 80 people Wednesday morning at the in Peconic.
Many in attendance were waterfront homeowners whose properties were severely damaged during the December storm — some, such as those located near the badly-eroded Town Beach on , to the point of falling into the Sound.
Nathanael Wales, a project planner and civil engineer for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, presented the idea of a proposed $3 million feasibility study of the coastline from in Southold east to the Hashamomuck Cove area. The study, he said, is needed to determine if there is a federal interest in protecting the area — and will take three to five years to complete.
“Some of the solutions we would look at would include putting in a beach and installing groins to hold that beach,” Wales said. “We would also look at potential sea walls and bulkheading. We’ll look at all of these things and what’s in the taxpayers best interests, because people will be asking questions as to why this is a good investment and we’ll have to be able to show them why.”
Gillbert Anderson, an engineer and commissioner of the Suffolk County Department of Public Works, added that federal interest ultimately hinges on protecting Route 48 — one of only two main roadways through the North Fork.
“And that is irrespective of whether your house is there or not,” Anderson said.
Many audience members said that they understood the slow process of Army Corps and Suffolk County studies and long-term plans for protection the coastline, but, they wondered — what if another storm hits in the meantime?
“I understand the studies and everything, but two more storms like this and we’re all dead,” said Southold resident Michael Verni, who lives near on North Sea Drive. “And there goes your tax base, there goes people coming out and there goes the North Fork and everything that’s been put into the wineries — gone, forever. Two or three more storms and that’s it.”
“God forbid there is another storm, but if there is, yes, it’s going to cost millions of dollars and we will have to deal with it at the time,” Anderson said. “But we have to have a justification now to spend federal dollars, which are nationwide.”
Freddie Guerra of on Route 48 said he believed weather conditions were only going to get worse in three to five years.
“Are we going to stop this water from taking our land or are we going to let it take all that is left?" he said.
Roman Rakoczy of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reiterated that, given the current economic crisis, there isn't much the feds can do immediately.
“I don’t want to be a pessimist, but you see what’s going on in government — there are all sorts of cutbacks, but that is reality,” he said. “There is some federal funding available, and the next step would be to sign a partnership agreement, but again, it’s all relative to funding — how much funding can the federal government get and can the state manage the funds necessary to execute the project.”
, who was also in attendance along with and , said that the way to save Route 48 is to save the houses along it.
"If you don’t people who own property along they won’t care,” he said. “They won’t seek to protect their property and the breach to the road will come even sooner.”
Romaine suggested the simple solution to protecting those homes and the road at least in the short-term is to stabilize the beach with beach nourishment or installing temporary jetties.
“To do as the legislator is suggesting is also going to take time and study,” Anderson said. “We can’t just dump sand there without some kind of environmental consideration, and that in itself could take a couple of years. And where is that sand coming from and how are we going to get it there? There is very little we can do immediately.”
After the meeting,Trustee Bob Ghosio commented that this particular gathering of engineers and politicians focused too much on the long-term solutions to coastal erosion and missed the fact that homeowners can always ask their local trustees to act as go-between when faced with county, state or federal red tape.
“We are an immediate resource,” he said. “Our website has all the codes, the applications, information on the permitting process. This wasn’t fleshed out today.”
Near the end of the meeting, Verni turned to the crowd and suggested that the only thing that can be done immediately to protect their homes and shoreline is to stick together and stay up on letter writing.
“We have to stick together as one unit, otherwise these people will not listen to us,” he said. “Over 46 years, I’ve seen the beach diminish and disappear. We need to get our emails together, we need to contact our congressmen and we have to keep the fire under their butts, otherwise nothing will happen. We’ve been down this road before.”