In January, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers announced a $30.7 million contract to protect the Montauk Point Lighthouse from shoreline erosion. The project, awarded to H&L Contracting of Bay Shore, is already underway, and is expected to take approximately two years to complete.
“This is an incredible example of civilians and government agencies joining forces to save a National Historic Landmark,” says Greg Donohue, Director of Erosion Control for the Montauk Historical Society, which owns the Lighthouse. “It is the result of many years’ partnership, teamwork, and passion.”
The costs of the revetment will be shared by the project’s federal, state, and local sponsors, with the Army Corps and the DEC contributing the funds for the construction, and the Montauk Historical Society maintaining the site after the works are complete.
Although the Historical Society owns the Lighthouse and grounds, its deed extends to only a fraction — 400 feet — of the bluff. The rest of the surrounding land is State-owned, apart from a small section of Turtle Cove that belongs to East Hampton Town.
“We will do everything we can to make our property safe for visitors, so that they can continue to enjoy the Lighthouse grounds, museum and gift shop during the building works,” says Jason Walter, Lighthouse Site Manager.
Here are some FAQs, along with their answers. If you have other questions, please email email@example.com.
1. What is erosion and why is it a problem for the Lighthouse?
Erosion is the process by which the earth is worn away by the actions of water, winds, waves, etc. Lighthouses tend to be vulnerable because they are often located on points that jut into the sea.
The Montauk Point Lighthouse was built in 1796 in what was considered the best location for a beacon that would protect mariners. But it was known even back then that erosion would be a concern.
The Lighthouse was built 300 feet from the edge of the cliff. Erosion has meant that it now stands less than 100 feet from the edge. Without protection, it will fall into the sea.
2. What has been done to control erosion up till now?
Measurements have been taken to monitor erosion at Turtle Hill for over 120 years.
In the 1940s, a primitive revetment was created to try to slow down the damage that waves were causing to the bluff, but the structure was created without an engineering plan and enjoyed only slight success.
Fifty-one years ago this month, a volunteer called Giorgina Reid began a terracing process to try to stabilize the face of the bluff. She and her band of volunteers worked steadily for many years and made remarkable progress.
In the 1970s, the Coast Guard installed Gabion Wave Protection boxes at the foot of Turtle Hill to support Giorgina’s work, but the Gabions disintegrated in time.
By 1990, it was clear that the ravages of the Atlantic would be too severe for terracing alone. The Montauk Historical Society began an all-out effort to enhance Giorgina’s work. Paul Simon held his legendary “Back to the Ranch” concert, with guest star Billy Joel, and donated the proceeds to fight erosion at the Lighthouse.
As a stop-gap measure, the Coast Guard, the NY Parks Department, and MHS joined forces to set 10,000 boulders at the base of Turtle Hill. By 1992, over $1 million had been spent to combat erosion, but the efforts were not extensive enough to have the lasting impact that was needed. When the Montauk Historical Society (MHS) took over the deed to the Lighthouse in 1997, we made it our priority to try to shore up the bluff and save this historic monument.
In 2005, the US Army Corps of Engineers completed a feasibility study for erosion control. After Hurricane Sandy struck in 2012, $60 billion was put aside for shoreline repair and erosion mitigation, and the New York Department of Environmental Control became a partner in these efforts. The Lighthouse was deemed eligible for some of these funds by virtue of being a National Historic Monument.
The work has just begun, and will involve the engineered placement of 65,000 tons of boulders along the base of Turtle Hill. Some excavation will allow boulders to be set below the surface in order to support the revetment above.
3. Is it true that you’re turning the beach into a road?
Of course not. Diggers, bulldozers and cranes will use the beach when necessary, but this is only temporary.
4. Will we still have access to the beach and the Lighthouse?
Yes. There will be safe public access to the Lighthouse as well as to nearby beach areas. Construction and staging areas will be closed to the public for the duration of the project.
5. Will you be dredging sand for this?
6. Will people still be able to surf?
Yes, although it may take a little longer to get to the water because of safety restrictions on the shore.
7. Is it true that this project will ruin surfcasting in this area?
We have no reason to believe that that would be the case. Fishing will continue on the north and side flanks during construction, and will go back to normal when the project is completed.
8. Who is responsible for this work?
H&L Contracting of Bayshore, a company with extensive experience in revetment, will carry out the project. This work is being overseen by the Army Corps of Engineers and the NY State Department of Environmental Control. The Montauk Historical Society will be responsible for maintaining it once the revetment work is completed.
9. I’ve never heard about this project. Has there been any public discussion?
There has been extensive public discussion and debate about this project since 2005, when the feasibility study was completed.
10. When will this project be completed?
It is scheduled to be finished in Spring of 2023.
11. What will this revetment accomplish?
This revetment, along with the terracing and planting above it, is expected to preserve Turtle Hill and keep the Montauk Point Lighthouse shining for future generations.