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Ocean breach now a breath-taking beach.

It was only a year ago that a great Northeaster howled into the sands of the barrier island of Westhampton and carved a new inlet, claiming almost 100 houses along the way. On November 5, those with homes still standing will vote on whether to create their own independent town.

Last month, nearly $6 million and 1.5 million cubic yards of sand later, the Army Corps of Engineers closed the 1,800 foot breach and is continuing to suck sand from the ocean floor and pour it in front of the homes still standing at the most Westerly end of the isle.

According to Richard McInerney, project engineer, the break was widening 20 feet a day before the Corps began the massive task in July. The current sand berm is 160-feet wide and 8 feet high and stretches nearly three quarters of a mile.

The Town of Southampton is still discussing whether or not to pave the top and how much more money to spend on something critics say could be lost in the next storm that comes around.

Fred Thiele, Southampton Town Supervisor said they will wait until spring, after winter storms have passed, to decide what to do. It is unlikely, he said, that they will pave the road and will probably open it only to residents and four-wheel drive vehicles.

Several years ago, when funds beome tight, Suffolk County pulled out of a joint Federally funded groin building project some years ago that was supposed to keep the ocean from breaking through. The last jetty, in fact, marks the most easterly point of the breach.

Since then, after every bad storm, house after house on the jetty's western side has tottered on its stilt legs and fallen into the sea. Of about 140 homes still standing, Thiele guessed only 60 to 80 would be inhabitable if electricity and water were brought in. A matter entirely up to those private utilities.

"What this project does is plug a hole in the breach and does not address the underlying problem of the way the groin field was constructed," said Thiele. "If nothing further happens, that breach will reappear within three to five years.

The newly created berm marks one of the most deserted and pristine beaches on Long Island - if a handful of construction workers and a pair of discarded workboots can be overlooked. On the inlet side, a stunning cove has been formed that attracts both sea gulls and jet skiers.

"We used to have a town beach there but the parking lot is gone and the beach is gone," recalled Thiele.

Sightseers are turned back, but some determined walkers and looters come by kayak or from still standing neighboring homes. The fire marshals chase away those they can catch.

Those with homes left stranded are ferried by amphibious personnel carriers and escorted to get their belongings - not the ideal summer share. The grey personnel carriers are as big as summer cottages and tower above the beach where they are parked next to better situated houses - better situated only in that they are able to be occupied.

The sand is being reclaimed from the ocean floor by the second largest dredging barge in the world. McInerney credits the swift success of the project so far on the expertise of Great Lakes Dredging, an Illinois company that has offices on Staten Island.

The barge pumps a slurry of sand mixed with water through a mile of 30-inch pipe sections that have been connected together and run along the top of the berm. At its mouth, a deflector causes the sand to spray outward, filling the area in front. Bulldozers then leap into action, pushing stray sand into place and mounding the berm back toward the waves with a 1:20 foot slope.

"If they will rebuild the dune system and modify the jetties we might be willing to do more," said Thiele. "Absent something like there is no reason to make a further investment. That breach is just one major storm away from recurring."
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Title Annotation:Army Corps of Engineers repairs breach caused by storm damage at Westhampton Beach, New York
Author:Weiss, Lois
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Date:Oct 13, 1993
Words:676
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