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Southampton Town Is Squaring Off With Suffolk County Over East Hampton Jetties

Originally Posted: February 03, 2010

Douglas MacKaye Harrington

The original trial included detailed scientific evidence. (File Photos)

Southampton - In what could easily be considered a modern version of David versus Goliath, Attorney Gary Ireland is representing his mother with the Town of Southampton, represented by Richard Cahn, (Southampton/Ireland) in joint litigation against Suffolk County in the Second Circuit Court. Oral arguments are being heard on Thursday, February 4 to appeal the August 28, 2008 District Court ruling that found for Suffolk County regarding the plaintiffs' suit to force the county to mitigate the environmental damage caused by four groins that were constructed in the 1960s.

Shoreline erosion causes shrinkage of beach front and dune size, if not complete destruction.

The original suit noted the beach erosion caused by the county jetties in East Hampton and the consequential effect, which Southampton/Ireland claims amounts to nothing short of the destruction of public beaches due to shoreline downdrift from East Hampton running west. Considered one of the most important environmental cases in Suffolk County history, Ireland notes, "The decision by the Second Circuit will impact the public beaches, the real estate industry, as well as public policy for future generations."

In layman's terms, the suit claimed that the construction of the four groins, which are essentially jetties constructed at inlets, prevented the natural flow of sand in the westerly direction that is the normal tidal movement. In other words, the sand builds up on the eastern side of these jetties preventing the natural replenishment of sand along the shoreline to the west of them. The result is shoreline erosion and the shrinkage of beach front and dune size, if not complete destruction.

According to Ireland, "It is common knowledge that the drift on Long Island runs from Montauk to New York City. If I put my eight year old in the water on the left side or eastern side of the lifeguard stand, after a few minutes I will have to walk down to the right or western side of the lifeguard stand to take her out of the water."

At the urging of Suffolk County in the 1960s the Army Corps of Engineers constructed four jetties in East Hampton roughly between the Maidstone Club in the east and the Georgica Pond area in the west. Ireland further explained, "As a condition of putting in the jetties the county was told by the ACE that the county had to replenish the beaches west of the jetties. The county agreed at the time, but they have not honored their promise. Our objective all along has been to have them [Suffolk County] clean up their mess. It is an environmental disaster that is costing us millions of dollars and washing away the public beaches."

Attorney Gary Ireland is representing his mother and the Town of Southampton (Southampton/Ireland) in joint litigation against Suffolk County in the Second Circuit Court.

The original trial included detailed scientific evidence. To keep it simple for our purposes, the county in response essentially claimed that the extent of erosion was exaggerated, normal and went so far as to intimate that the westerly downdrift of the costal waters along the south shore and the consequent erosion could not be conclusively proven. The county's expert trial witness, Dr. David Aubrey, went so far as to state that Montauk Point was actually growing easterly. On the other hand Southampton/Ireland's expert witness, Dr. Robert Dean, countered the erosion had indeed been significant and a direct result of the groins.

Also testifying at the trial on behalf of Southampton/Ireland was Dr. Lee Koppelman (Long Island Regional Planning Board). He was part of a committee that included the Nature Conservancy and over a dozen other experts, environmentalists and community leaders that presented their findings to Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy in a 2003 report that made environmental and energy policy recommendations. One part of that reports states, "Recent studies demonstrate that shore hardening structures including groins, jetties, bulkheads, rock revetments and semi-hard structures like geo-tubes, create critical and expensive coastal problems." The study went on to call for the structures to be shortened or removed.

Southampton/Ireland have secured renowned environmental attorney Jeff Pollock of Fox/Rothschild to present their appeal to the Second Circuit Court. If the appeal is successful, "We will seek a new trial to re-visit the issues and hopefully win that trial to the benefit of future generations, so that they will still have a shoreline to enjoy," according to Ireland.

The appeal will take place Thursday, February 4 at 10 a.m. in the Second Circuit Court which is located in Manhattan at 500 Pearl Street, ninth floor, and all concerned citizens are free to attend.

Frequently mistaken for the "Most Interesting Man in the World" from the Dos Equis commercials and the iconic gray-bearded Sean Connery, DMH is the Senior Contributing Editor at Hamptons.com. www.hamptons.com Hamptons HamptonsOnline HamptonsOnline

Updated: February 3, 2010, 6:56 pm
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