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Talking with Surfrider Manager John Weber About the Army Corps Work in Montauk

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One of the more prominent critics of the Army Corps' project to rebuild downtown Montauk beaches has been the Surfrider Foundation. To find out more about their opposition to the work, we talked to John Weber, Surfrider's Mid-Atlantic Regional Manager.

Surfrider thinks this dune work will "destroy the beach." How will it do that?
Hard structures cause beaches to disappear, mostly through wave action. If you put a hard structure the path of an incoming wave's energy, that energy has to go somewhere. Typically, it hits the wall and all of that energy is reflected back out, seaward, and it takes sand with it. Slowly, this make the beach disappear. Contrast this with wave energy dissipating on a gently-sloped beach where there is no reflection of energy and therefore less erosion.

Has this kind of project been attempted before in other areas? Did it work? Why or why not?
There are several prominent examples of seawalls made of geotubes failing. There are some amazing pictures of North Topsail Beach, NC at this link, and here's an opinion piece.

north topsail erosion from Sea Grass on Vimeo.

Other examples include Plum Island, MA, and Nantucket.

What alternatives to this project does Surfrider favor?
Surfrider Foundation supports a coastal realignment here where the hotels are moved back and the primary dune is extended eastward over the land where the hotels currently sit. We support a long term plan that includes relocation as well as natural defenses like dunes as the best defense against rising seas and more frequent and more powerful storms. As a short term measure, we support a sand-only option while these aforementioned measures are being put into place.

What about people who own motels along the beach? Are they just supposed to wave farewell to their livelihoods? If Surfrider favors moving the motels, where would they move to, who will pay for it, and how much will it cost?
The livelihoods of hotel owners in Montauk are in jeopardy if the beach disappears, so we are trying to save the beach and therefore their livelihood. The hotels can continue to operate once they are moved to a new location across S. Emerson Ave.

Is Surfrider privileging a stretch of oceanfront beach over many local businesses—not just the oceanfront motels—and also possible loss of life?
The oceanfront hotels and local businesses will suffer if there is no beach to go to. This part of town was threatened when the hotels were built where there once were protective dunes. We seek to preserve the businesses by moving them to a safe location, preserve the beach by making sure it is not adjacent to a hard structure, and restore the natural dunes which can provide real protection.

Montauk Point has had all kinds of remediation work done to keep the Lighthouse from falling into the sea, including sandbags. Why does it work there and wouldn't work on the ocean beach?
The armoring and rock revetments around Montauk Lighthouse have been an abject failure. The lighthouse has been armored five times since 1946 and each time the armoring was supposed to last either 50 or 75 years. The most recent armoring is only twenty-two years old. Evidence that it was failing and calls to armor once again started roughly ten years ago. The erosion around Camp Hero is being caused by the current revetment. Moving the Lighthouse back will make it last another 300 years as opposed to these expensive and ineffective revetments over and over again. Allowing the bluffs of the Point to naturally erode will supply sand to beaches down drift to the west and reduce erosion rates in places like…downtown Montauk!
· Surfrider [Official]
· All posts about the Army Corps of Engineers [CH]
· All posts about rebuilding Montauk beaches [CH]