Protests in Montauk over wall of sandbags on beach to prevent flooding

Kristin Thorne Image
Tuesday, November 17, 2015
EMBED <>More Videos

Kristin Thorne reports from Montauk.

MONTAUK, L.I. (WABC) -- When Superstorm Sandy hit three years ago, many beach-side communities vowed to protect themselves from future damage.

Residents in the Suffolk County community of Montauk are fighting to protect their homes from the ocean sweeping away the town when another Sandy-like storm passes through, but they can't all agree on how to do it.

The Army Corps of Engineers says it's protecting against flooding by sandbagging the entrance to the beach ahead of winter storms.

The $8.4 million project involves putting some 14,000 artificial sandbags, known as geobags, along a half mile stretch of beach near downtown Montauk.

The goal, according to the town of East Hampton and the Army Corps of Engineers, is to protect the downtown from flooding.

But local residents see it as destroying their precious beachfront.

"When we saw the dune being cut into we were horrified," said Montauk resident Valerie Hoffmann.

And to prove they're serious about defending it, local residents have sat and stood in front of the bulldozers.

16 people in total have been arrested for disorderly conduct, including Sarah Conway.

"I laid down in a bottom of a pit that they had dug and they were going to continue to dig," she said.

Recently scores of surfers took to the water to protest the project because they worry about what altering the beach will mean for surfing tourism.

"I mean how much more can we do before people decide to go vacation someplace else?", said Montauk resident Thomas Muse.

A local environmental group, Defend H20, has filed a federal lawsuit against the town and the Army Corps.

"Federal law, state law and the local coastal management ordinance all prohibit the use of structures and geobags are a structure," said attorney Carl Irace.

East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell says it's all about protecting downtown Montauk.

"Trying to turn back the clock here is not a realistic opportunity for the town," Cantwell said.

The Army Corps says the project underwent extensive external and internal review, and they stand behind the project as the best way to protect downtown Montauk.

But residents say it's ruining the sensitive ecosystem and ruining the beauty of their beach.

"A lot of people who come out during the summers who love the beach, they love its easy access, they love its beautiful white sand. They're going to come out and say, what is this?", aaid Noyack resident Tom Oleszczuk.