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Public access to Hashamomuck Cove has town officials concerned

(Credit: Tim Gannon)

Southold Town officials said Tuesday they’re concerned about a new plan to reinforce beachfront properties at Hashamomuck Cove in Southold because public beach access would need to be created and at least one home would need to be demolished and turned into a parking lot.

The $17.7 million beach re-nourishment proposal by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also needs a separate public or private entity to pay for 35 percent of the initial costs, as well as half the costs for maintenance, Supervisor Scott Russell said, adding the town can’t afford to take on the project.

“This is a lot of money for a tiny budget,” he said.

Last month, the Army Corps opened a public comment period on the project, which would create three berms along the coves in the Hashamomuck area and to fill them in with about 160,000 cubic yards of sand.

In total, the project would cover about 1.6 miles including 58 residential structures and two commercial structures. At a press conference last month, Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) and residents in the area urged politicians to fund the project, saying their homes and properties were endangered by rising tides and storm surges.

The federal government requires that the beaches its re-nourishes are made open public, which town engineer Michael Collins described as a “non-negotiable” part of the funding agreement.

Two of the three areas where the beach will be re-nourished pose little issue for public access, he said.

The western berm would be located near the publicly accessible Town Beach while the eastern berm could be accessed by clearing a sliver of land currently owned by the county, Mr. Collins said.

The beach area near the middle berm — which Mr. Collins said the Army Corps have deemed as the most important part of the project — isn’t accessible and there’s no public land nearby.

The only option, he said, is to buy one of the property owners’ land, bulldoze it and set up a parking lot for public beach access.

“There’s going to be three people who are directly impacted,” he said, noting the properties’ neighbors would have to have a parking lot next door.

When Councilwoman Jill Doherty asked if walking to the beach was enough for public access, Mr. Collins said an entrance was needed within half-a-mile of the project area.

As for finding another local entity to sponsor the remaining costs, Mr. Russell described it as the project’s “biggest hurdle” and said he’s not sure what role the county or state is interested — or can afford — to play in the funding.

If those municipalities won’t foot the bill, Mr. Russell suggested that utility companies may sign on in order to protect their assets along the Route 48.

A special taxing district could also be set up to pay a “nominal” fee towards the beach re-nourishment, he added.

“They’re going to see a tremendous amount of benefit,” Mr. Russell said.

Ms. Doherty said she didn’t want to see the town becoming the de facto advocate for the project. The supervisor agreed, noting a similar joint project near Mattituck Inlet took months to sort out and didn’t go well.

“I would hate to see the town get involved in a local sponsor [hunt], going out and soliciting,” he said.

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Photo credit: Tim Gannon