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Jan 25, 2011 5:09 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Montauk Residents File $25 Million Lawsuit Over Erosion

Jan 25, 2011 5:09 PM

A group of Montauk residents on Tuesday filed a $25 million lawsuit against East Hampton Town, Suffolk County and New York State, claiming that the governments allowed their shoreline to erode away to the point that their homes are in danger of falling into the Block Island Sound.

The 18 residents of Soundview Drive and Captain Kidd’s Path, who represent 13 homes, are also claiming that a pair of jetties at the inlet to Lake Montauk have blocked the flow of sand and exacerbated the erosion over the years, while the governments did nothing—and in some cases even hindered the homeowners by dragging their feet before issuing permits.

A separate notice of claim will be filed against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the federal government in the coming days, according to one of the plaintiffs, Terry Bienstock 
of Soundview Drive. Mr. 
Bienstock said other neighbors may join the lawsuits.

In addition to monetary damages, the residents are seeking to force the governments to reverse the erosion problem immediately by nourishing the shoreline, installing protective structures, installing a “permanent sand bypass system,” shortening or dismantling the jetties and approving all the residents’ emergency permits for shoreline work. The beach at Culloden Point has lost as much as 300 feet of sand in recent years, according to the plaintiffs, while residents have spent millions of dollars trying to save their homes.

“This is not just another beach erosion case: this is a disaster of the government’s own making,” states the lawsuit, which was filed in State Supreme Court. “For years, government at all levels, including the defendants in this action, has stood by and done nothing while the plaintiffs have seen their beach disappear and their homes become threatened with imminent loss and destruction.”

The erosion problem reached a “crisis point” in late December, when a nor’easter destroyed bulkheads and scoured away sand along the two waterfront streets, according to the lawsuit. The storm almost caused one home, owned by one of the plaintiffs, Frank DeVito, to topple into the water. Several residents have asked the town to take action since then, and have threatened to sue.

“I fear the town saying, ‘Oh we’re trying to help,’” Mr. Bienstock said. “There’s only one thing that will help right now and that’s money. I know they mean well, and the last thing we want to do is be where we are, but being on our side doesn’t cut it any more. We need money, we need machinery and we need permits issued.”

The two jetties were built in the 1920s by the Army Corps on town-owned land, according to the lawsuit, and were extended at some point to 981 and 1,100 feet. Since then, sand has been accumulating on Gin Beach, east of the inlet, starving the shoreline west of the inlet. Almost nothing is left of the beach there today.

On Monday, Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson did not return a call and Deputy Town Attorney John Jilnicki could not be reached, although town officials do not normally comment on litigation.

The lawsuit comes even as elected officials are pushing to fix the erosion. Last week, U.S. Representative Tim Bishop and Senator Charles Schumer sent a letter to the Army Corps, urging it to expedite the dredging of Lake Montauk and deposit the dredged sand west of the jetty. On Monday, State Assemblyman Fred W. Thiele Jr. said that, after meeting with Mr. Wilkinson last week, he will work to pressure the Army Corps to do the same thing. Mr. Thiele said he would introduce a resolution in the Assembly calling for federal action, and he will bring up the need for dredging during a meeting with Governor Andrew Cuomo this week.

The Army Corps is scheduled to dredge the inlet into Lake Montauk in 2013, but shoaling has recently made it a dangerous causeway for commercial fishing vessels, Mr. Bishop and Mr. Schumer wrote in their letter. “Commercial fishing vessels with experienced captains are currently forced to wait offshore up to several hours and even then, often end up scraping bottom and narrowly averting disaster,” the legislators wrote.

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By patrickstar (67), hampton bays on Jan 26, 11 9:41 AM
The county should have kept its dredge.
By goldenrod (505), southampton on Jan 26, 11 10:13 AM
1 member liked this comment
the county has a dredge- they dredge all the small inlets in the county
By CaptainSig (716), Dutch Harbor on Jan 26, 11 10:21 PM
There IS a long-term, permanent solution. Buy out the homeowners; lease them back their homes until they fall into the ocean; demolish the remains - and never again attempt to hold back the sea. Ditto for the south shore of the East End. We did it half a century ago on Fire Island and it worked out just fine.
By highhatsize (4217), East Quogue on Jan 26, 11 11:17 AM
That sounds like a really poor idea, maybe the same thing should've been done with the lighthouse as well? The has been a permanent solution their and it IS holding the sea back.
By ICE (1214), Southampton on Jan 30, 11 3:04 AM
oops wrong there, there

By ICE (1214), Southampton on Jan 30, 11 3:19 AM
Yeah....blame someone else!! Sue the town because YOU chose a poor location to build your house. Yeah, that makes sense!

PEOPLE - you built your house on sand!!!!! What did you expect? The wind should stop blowing and the ocean stand still?....for you? HAHAHA - Even the bible has a story using "the foolish man who built his house upon the sand" as an example of what NOT to do!
By Wife of a Bayman (4), East Hampton on Jan 26, 11 11:19 AM
Isn't there a line or to in the bible about envy as well?
By joe hampton (3461), south hampton on Jan 26, 11 12:45 PM
1 member liked this comment
ENVY? I do not envy fools. OH - WAIT!!!... You are assuming I am of a lower financial bracket because of my screen name?? AND - that I should envy someone with a beach house that is about to fall into the ocean. HAHA... You know what they say about those who assume! You know NOTHING about me "Joe Hampton".
By Wife of a Bayman (4), East Hampton on Jan 26, 11 4:18 PM
1 member liked this comment
Geeez, seems somebody has some issues...........
By Bilge Water (131), Southampton on Jan 26, 11 10:18 PM
1 member liked this comment
joe always thinks it's envy when one has no sympathy, or pity, for a rich fool.
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Jan 27, 11 6:40 PM
We are all fools, as this whole island is sand and we all have built or bought onto it...... Maybe rent too.
By ICE (1214), Southampton on Jan 30, 11 3:06 AM
Digging around in my backyard, I seem to live on a large pile of rocks, with some sand mixed in.

Also, for the house to be in any danger whatsoever, sea levels would need to rise fourteen meters.

How foolish is that position?
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Feb 2, 11 11:31 PM
Jetties were there way before the houses -- or even the small, poorly sited lots they're built on. Prior in time is prior in right.
By rss0246 (23), East Hampton on Jan 26, 11 11:23 AM
those jetties arent going anywhere they protect the harbor entrance
By reality 101 (137), East Hampton on Jan 26, 11 11:26 AM
1 member liked this comment
Keeping it real!
By ICE (1214), Southampton on Jan 30, 11 3:20 AM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By maxwell (169), speonk on Jan 26, 11 11:31 AM
1 member liked this comment
I hope that these spoiled idiots lose and are required to re-imburse the town triple the cost of the lawsuit. Thejetties were ther before they built their houses. How arogant of these moroons to think that they could build on sand on the ocean and that nothing would happen. Given enough time the entire shoreline on Long Island will recede. Remember LI was created by a glacier only 20,000 years ago. By its very nature it is an unstable place at best. I hope their houses fall into the ocean and they ...more
By maxwell (169), speonk on Jan 26, 11 11:34 AM
1 member liked this comment
You build your house on the water expect the what comes with it. Act of God or his agents {The Corps}.
By patrickstar (67), hampton bays on Jan 26, 11 3:26 PM
I believe it would cost less to condemn these houses and remove them than to remove and relocate or rebuild the jetties.
By montaukman (98), easthampton on Jan 26, 11 3:56 PM
Maxwell....quite opinionated for someone who has these homes falling into the "ocean", it's the Sound....A lot of these houses had 300 feet on beach in front of them in the mid eighties. Whatever the cause, maybe this will help spur a long term solution I.e. sale and leaseback or sand bypass or a sand nourishment program. It's a desperate situation for these people and they don't even get to have insurance help out. The legislative bodies have dragged their feet for so long and I wish them luck ...more
By earl (31), springs on Jan 26, 11 4:02 PM
2 members liked this comment
Are we really having this conversation?????????!!!!!!!! Boo hoo I was lucky enough to live close to the water and after 25 years erosion is sweeping my house to the sea. Deal with it nature wins.
By Biba (566), East Hampton on Jan 26, 11 11:47 PM
2 members liked this comment
SOMEONE MUST be responsible for this!!!!

By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Feb 4, 11 11:59 PM
There is no such thing as a "natural flow" of sand - as sand has moved in different ways over time our perspective of "proper flow" has changed as well - After jetties are installed sand will flow in a new way, which is no less natural then the way it moved before. How well the sand is moving is a subjective judgment based on individual ideas surrounding "use" of sand.

even though i agree that this lawsuit is mostly friv-o-los, I don't agree with 90% of the perspectives routinely displayed ...more
By dogfacejones (81), Southampton on Jan 27, 11 7:57 AM
When the Town of East Hampton has a 25 million dollar law suit against which to defend itself, you and I are going to foot the bill for that defense through increased taxes. So while I am sympathetic to anyone who loses his or her house for any reason, I'm guessing those 18 homeowners in Montauk don't have our best interests at heart or much sympathy for us.
By HogCreek (7), East Hampton on Jan 27, 11 8:10 AM
1 member liked this comment
Since the jetties were there since 1910 and the sand was 300' deep as of the 80's might it be that it night never have been there in the 80's and that was a bonus?

Sorry sympathy level is zero here.
By Hambone (514), New York on Jan 27, 11 9:19 AM
By jbugler (1), oakdale on Jan 27, 11 10:26 AM
1 member liked this comment
Whereas there MAY be a persuasive argument for maintaining barrier beaches around hardened inlets that support a bay or harbor that is a valuable public commercial and recreational resource, there is none for spending millions of tax $$ protecting private property. The cost of interfering with the natural migration of the barrier beach (with the possible exception of the former case) should be wholly borne by the private property owners whose homes are the beneficiaries.

Just how many ...more
By highhatsize (4217), East Quogue on Jan 27, 11 11:53 AM
Think Mr. Hat, if the houses go do we then protect the road? Do say screw the road and then it is the houses on the other side of the road that go next and those houses aren't owned by people with as much money as the waterfront ones. Just where do we drawn the line and hold back the erosion?
If the Town hadn't held up permits and help facilitate them as well as lobbied for Federal Aid, maybe this wouldn't be at litigation level....
By ICE (1214), Southampton on Jan 30, 11 3:13 AM
A simple solution from here on in would to allow ONLY mobile homes near shore lines. This way when erosion comes, you roll it back a few feet. When no longer the land can support the mobile homes, you put you license plates on and find another lot location. Works for me, solves the problem and mitigates all these unnecessary lawsuits and finger pointing. Thats easy!!!!
By The Crow's Nest (65), Red Creek on Jan 27, 11 2:08 PM
1 member liked this comment
Somebody just wrote here. "nature wins". Hurricanes blow away New Orlenes, earth quakes destroy Haiti, ice caps melt, and Montauk washes into the sea. The only one who does win is the lawyer they hired to sue. No one encouraged them to build on the beach. Codes don't guarentee your investment. Codes set standards that protect the interests of the community. Codes take into account reality including 90 year old jettys. Codes can't make people be wise. These people can't win because they did it to ...more
By facts man (148), east hampton on Jan 28, 11 11:32 AM
1 member liked this comment
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Jan 28, 11 10:08 PM
Words cannot convey my disgust at fools who build on the sand.
By summertime (589), summerfield fl on Jan 29, 11 4:02 PM
This whole island is sand, now how dumb does your comment sound?

Even the hills in Bridgehampton are sand, know much about geology?

Guess not!
By ICE (1214), Southampton on Jan 30, 11 3:16 AM
1 member liked this comment
Simple solution to this is build a breakwater to dissipate the wave energy which is the primary cause of the erosion. Then nourish the beach once, rather than every year or two without a breakwater.
By ICE (1214), Southampton on Jan 30, 11 3:18 AM
You can't just build a breakwater - there are other considerations like how sand flow will be altered, protecting of the marine ecosystem, and the visual conundrum.
By dogfacejones (81), Southampton on Feb 2, 11 7:56 AM
Sand flow - Is already interrupted by the jetties, a breakwater would not further impact the flow as there is none.

Protecting the Marine Ecosystem - breakwaters provide habitat for many marine creatures. What information do you have to back up your concern for the marine ecosystem relating to breakwaters.

Visual Conundrum - Without a breakwater there will not place left from which to view anything, so it is a catch 22. The breakwater if built properly could provide an area from ...more
By ICE (1214), Southampton on Feb 2, 11 7:23 PM