Suffolk Closeup: Environmental follies

“We live on an island built on sand.”

That’s how Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski accurately describes Long Island.

Mr. Krupski well understands the nature of the island’s coastline. For 20 years he was a member of the Southold Town Board of Trustees — 14 years as president. The Southold trustees, with origins dating back to the Colonial-era Andros Patent, oversee the shores and adjoining waters of Southold Town.

He was a Southold Town Board member for five years before being elected to the Suffolk Legislature. On the panel since 2013, his district included Shelter Island until this year when legislative district lines were changed. His district still includes Riverhead and Southold Towns and a large part of Brookhaven Town running from Wading River down to Center Moriches.

“I am very familiar with the processes of coastal erosion and the dynamics of the shoreline,” Mr. Krupski said. A fourth-generation farmer, he owns and operates a farm in Cutchogue, growing corn, pumpkins, tomatoes and other crops.

In October Mr. Krupski became a minority of one on the Suffolk Legislature when he voted to oppose the county’s participation in an $8.9 million project to try to fortify a 3,100-foot stretch of downtown Montauk ocean shoreline. The other 17 legislators voted for the county to have a stake in the project and County Executive Steve Bellone signed the “intermunicipal agreement” — which means that you, as a county taxpayer, will be paying towards “operation and maintenance of the project.”

The Army Corps of Engineers’ plan, which now the county as well as the Town of East Hampton have joined, involves placing tens of thousands of cubic yards of sand in “geotextile” bags along this shore.

Mr. Krupski isn’t backing off his opposition. In a letter two weeks ago to county officials, he noted that the nor’easter that hit Long Island this past December 9 and 10 “caused enough damage to cause … the Army Corps … to re-evaluate their proposed hardening project” for Montauk.

It wasn’t even a “named” storm but a typical nor’easter, he added. Yet it hit the Montauk coast hard and if the system of “geotextile” sand-filled bags had been in place “it would have cost the town and county millions of dollars to repair.”

“I believe Suffolk County should not endorse a project that hardens the shoreline,” Mr. Krupski said. “This is a project that, one, is sure to fail and cause accelerated erosion to adjacent properties, and two, puts the maintenance on the shoulders of the entire county.”

Will Mr. Krupski’s lone voice in county government be heeded? The fight he’s joined is not new. I’ve written about such battles involving the Long Island shoreline over and over again as a journalist here for more than 50 years.

I vividly remember Westhampton Beach house owners pushing in the 1970s for a line of rock-jetties, termed “groins,” to be built along the oceanfront to protect their dwellings. The result involved “robbing Peter to pay Paul.” The groins grabbed sand, but at the cost to the shoreline downdrift to the west, which was left radically eroded. Beach house owners on the west ended up forming a village, West Hampton Dunes, and bringing a lawsuit. It resulted in 1994 in a settlement with us, the taxpayers, paying for $80 million in beach work and an agreement to keep dumping sand for 30 years on a coastline reduced by those also taxpayer-financed groins.

When the Army Corps first considered what might be done in Montauk after it was walloped by Superstorm Sandy, a stone seawall and, yes, groins again, were among the options advanced. Then came the “geotextile” bag scheme. Mr. Krupski says of the Army Corps: “I don’t understand their commitment to shoreline hardening.”

It’s not only our tax dollars and the overall coastline that can end up being gouged.

There’s a big question as to the source of the sand for the Montauk project. The Army Corps initially said that it would be necessary to have 71,000 cubic yards but now says 100,000 more cubic yards of sand are needed. Most of it is to come from a still unnamed place upland on Long Island. Might some of this come from a sand mine in Noyac now being proposed for expansion?

The state Department of Environmental Conservation has been expediting — despite strong opposition from environmentalists, Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. (I-Sag Harbor) and area residents — an application to permit a major deepening of this mine, called Sand Land. The mine sits right atop the vital and sensitive water aquifer.

One environmental folly leads to another. And we and the earth suffer.