Nassau Point erosion a concern for civic association

07/11/2011 4:30 PM |

Could Nassau Point become an island? It’s happened before and residents say it could happen again.

In fact it’s happened twice. During Hurricane Carol in 1954 and Hurricane Gloria in 1985 the bay at the Cutchogue-New Suffolk Park District Beach overflowed the causeway, separating the Nassau Point peninsula from the rest of Cutchogue.

Members of the Nassau Farms Civic Association believe a repeat is likely — and soon. They say an area marked off to protect nesting piping plovers on the beach is below water at high tides during nor’easters. They also maintain that because dredging now occurs in December instead of April, winter flounder in Little Creek, critical to the ecology of the area, aren’t being protected. The flounder population is diminishing and is in danger of being eradicated, according to civic association president Adelaide Amend.

Ms. Amend points to a 2008 study by Dowling College’s department of earth and marine sciences, commissioned by the civic association for $40,000. It concludes that the changed dredging date is failing to protect those winter flounder.

Cutchogue-New Suffolk Park District commissioner Eric Izzo said he has no objection to protecting the flounder and the piping plovers. But without dredging in April, high tides wash away the flounders’ eggs and the piping plovers’ nesting area. The piping plover area remains restricted, but there’s not a bird to be seen, he said.

“You would find more piping plovers at the landfill,” Mr. Izzo said.

Mr. Izzo would like to see a return to the April dredging that would then allow sand to be spread over the eroding beach front as soon as the piping plovers nesting season ends.

“We need the sand; we’ll do anything we can to get the sand,” he said. “But no two departments seem to work together, so nothing ends up getting done. This is an example of bureaucracy at its best.”

Today Causeway Beach, as it’s known to area residents, is “in deep trouble,” Ms. Amend said. It’s not getting replenished with sand, making the once pristine white, sandy beach a shadow of its former beauty, she said.

“There’s a tremendous amount of erosion that has been going on for years,” she said. “It’s so neglected, it’s impossible.”

What went wrong with a system that worked for years? Town trustee David Bergen offers a partial explanation.

Historically, Little Creek was dredged in the early spring and the spoils from the dredge were delivered to the beach to replenish sand eroded by winter storms. The only delay then was to wait until the end of the piping plover nesting season and that worked well, he said.

When the dredge permit expired in 2007, a renewed 10-year permit changed the dredge window so it now ends by Dec. 15 instead of the following April 15, he said. That was in line with Southold Town’s Local Waterfront Revitalization Program, he said.

Three years ago, Mr. Bergen went to bat with the Town Board on behalf of area residents who wanted the dredge window reopened. The Town Board acted recently to amend its LWRP to allow the dredge window to remain open until April 15. But their action must be approved by the New York State Department of State to recognize the amendment.

Mr. Bergen hasn’t seen the Dowling College report. But he said from what he has been told, he agrees with its conclusions and that’s why he worked to get the Town Board to amend its LWRP.

The DOS argues against the Dowling College report and refuses to accept the amendment, Mr. Bergen said.

“Our hands are tied now,” he said. “I share in [the neighbors’] frustration, I really do,” he said. But now it’s in the hands of the Department of State, he said.

If the DOS reversed its stand and allowed the amendment, then the DEC and Army Corps of Engineers would be able to work with the town and Suffolk County to establish a later dredging schedule for Little Creek, Mr. Bergen said.

The DOS did not respond to requests for comment on this story.

As for the sand replenishment on the beach, the usual practice would be to place it to the north of the beach where erosion occurred, Mr. Bergen said. However, in past years, it has been considered a public benefit to make the spoils available for the park district’s beach and he assumes that would again be the case.

Just a few years ago, the spoils were so plentiful that when spread, they were too high to meet a ramp intended for use by handicapped individuals to reach the beach, Mr. Bergen said. The sand had to be regraded so the ramp’s end met the top of the sand, he said. Today that ramp is about a foot or more above the beach, negating the park district’s ability to use its special wheelchair to allow handicapped individuals beach access.

As for the problem with flooding of the causeway, Mr. Bergen said no matter when the dredging and sand spreading occurs, that could still be a problem if the area is hit by a major storm.

For Ms. Amend, the memory of fire emergency vehicles having to rescue a Nassau Point resident who needed medical treatment, but not being able to reach the mainland after Hurricane Carol in 1954, remains a concern. She still sees the lack of sufficient sand as a contributor to flooding and wants a return to the later dredging.

“Everybody hears the argument,” Ms. Amend said. But still, there are delays for reasons she and her members don’t understand.

Meanwhile, sand is dumped at the far end of the beach that’s open to Southold Town residents. It fails to accomplish anything there, but leaves the main part of the beach devoid of the sand needed to replenish what had been eroded, she said.

“What the [Dowling College] report says is don’t play with the environment,” Ms. Amend said.

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