- After months of consideration, of The Town of East Hampton has decided to assume responsibility for the abutment that shores the very tip of Montauk Point, which gallantly seeks to stall the relentless affects of erosion that have threatened to topple the 213-year-old Montauk Lighthouse
into the Atlantic
Ocean for the better part of the last 50 years. The State of New York has already agreed to finance an Army Corps of Engineers plan to rebuild the protective revetment slowing the bluff's recession, however a state law passed in the 1940s restrains the state from allocating the necessary funding to the property's current deed holder, the Montauk Historical Society
The relentless effects of the Atlantic and damaging storms have carved 250 feet off the point at Montauk.
The lighthouse, commissioned by President George Washington
and constructed in 1796, originally sat 300 feet from the easternmost point of Long Island. Despite some protection from the revetment already in place, consistent erosion and violent storms have shortened the distance to only 50 feet, according to the Army Corps. Since waves are able to rise over the top of the current revetment, chipping away at the bluff from behind the protective barrier, the Army Corps plans to enlarge the existing 840-foot stone revetment to cover the area that has been lost.
As a means of circumventing the red-tape, "It seems like the best route, as this is a timely issue, is that the town becomes the deed taker of the property," Supervisor William McGintee contended during a Town Board work session on Tuesday, June 9, informing the board members of a meeting he had with representatives of the Army Corps. The idea of East Hampton taking ownership of the 100-by-800 strip of oceanfront was presented to the board last September, at which time the councilpersons expressed some hesitation toward becoming stewards of more property in the township and hoped that other possible remedies would alleviate their responsibility.
With the lighthouse's precarious position, it seems that all other options have failed. "We already have the appropriate plan," McGintee explained, "The alternative is for this project to go down the tubes."
In taking possession of the property, in the supervisor's assessment, the town has two main issues to consider. "The first issue, regarding maintenance, can be eliminated by having a sub-agreement with the Historical Society that they would be responsible for periodic maintenance," he offered, "which is a simple one," as the Historical Society has already indicated that they would be amenable to such an arrangement. The more pressing issue, he said, is "We have to discuss it with our insurance providers," as the liability for injuries or damage to the roadway would fall on the town's shoulders, though "we may already be covered under our insurance policy," McGintee surmised.
East Hampton Town Supervisor William McGintee sketching the Army Corps construction plans for his fellow board members at their June 9 work session. Photo by Aaron Boyd
Councilman Brad Loewen was more concerned with the town's future liability issues. "First off, let me say that we must do whatever we need to do to preserve the lighthouse," Loewen added as a prelude, "However, my question is what liability we may have down-drift, so to speak. There are groups saying it will cause environmental damage and seeing as how we are going to be the owners, I was wondering what liability we may have," he posed, with reference to concerns brought to the board's attention about the unintended consequences of hardening the shoreline.
"Man fishing off Montauk Point." This 1939 Time Magazine photograph taken by Alfred Eisenstaedt clearly shows the former landmass at the point and by comparison, illustrates the ravages of erosion that have worn away the beachfront.Image courtesy of Time Inc.
"That has all been analyzed," Supervisor McGintee asserted, not only by the Army Corps of Engineers, but also the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the Town Planning Department.
"That doesn't mean they can't sue us," Loewen retorted. Concurring with Lowen's concern, Councilman Pete Hammerle predicted, "Down the road we'll get pummeled with all these lawsuits when we had such a minimal involvement to begin with." "Given the choice of accepting liability or watching the lighthouse disappear off the bluff, I think the choice is clear," Loewen asserted, "but we should seek to minimize that liability."
"All the powers-that-be have taken all the data and looked at it and they're ready to move forward," McGintee assured. "We are merely being asked to be a conduit for this project." The supervisor agreed that long-term liability is an issue, however he was less worried about environmental lawsuits than everyday "trip-and-fall" accidents. The liability on those sort of claims is "probably not any more than if somebody trips on one of our sidewalks that's raised up. You have to weigh the alternatives here," McGintee reasoned, "We either decide to make this project work, or we don't."
"Why can't the state take it," Councilman Hammerle bemoaned, "[Suffolk] County passed the buck too - we're the smallest municipality. It worries me, I want to make it happen, but jeez."
McGintee stated that he plans to set up meetings with Dick White, a long-time Montauk Lighthouse Committee member and former Montauk Fire Commissioner, to discuss the section the town would be assuming and its responsibilities therein. The Town Board has yet to vote on whether to accept ownership of the property, though at this point it seems inevitable.