East Beach in Port Jefferson Village closed this week for a nine-month long project to stop further erosion at the foot of the bluff.
The beloved beach has seen better days, shrinking from shifting sand pulled eastward to Mount Sinai and erosion of the bluff that threatens to tumble the Port Jefferson Country Club into the Long Island Sound.
Over the past decade, village officials have been a driving force in getting agencies from the federal government, Suffolk County and Brookhaven Town to collaborate to repair storm damage, replacing two century-old jetties in Mount Sinai Harbor and replenishing sand that had been lost from East Beach.
Port Jefferson Mayor Margot Garant during a meeting earlier this year reviewing the issues facing East Beach and the bluff called it an “ongoing concern from 2010 to the present.”
In 2019, GreaterPortJeff ran a special report on the problems that the village faced getting those repairs done. By 2021, the jetties had been replaced, 80,000 cubic yards of sand dredged from Mount Sinai Harbor was put back onto East Beach, and the village had made repairs to the seawall.
Back then it was a race against time to shore up East Beach, making sure it didn’t disappear completely into Mount Sinai Harbor. Now, it’s a different — yet similar — kind of race. And the foe is Mother Nature once again.
The bluff above East Beach looms like never before. Deforestation from deer eating the vegetation destabilizes the foot of the bluff, trees loosen and tumble, storms rage and water erodes the side, steppening the bluff, causing sand to run off into the Long Island Sound.
Up top, the tennis courts teeter (the website says that the season was canceled at the club this year for new membership) and The Waterview restaurant building at Port Jefferson Country Club seems to inch closer and closer to the edge. The roadway to access East Beach will also be threatened.
If this scenario sounds familiar, it is. Once, the Montauk Lighthouse stood a comfortable 300 feet from the edge of its bluff back when George Washington commissioned the beacon in 1792. Erosion carved it back to less than 100 feet, threatening the Colonial landmark. Last year, a project to install a rock revetment at the toe of the bluff was approved.
East Beach closed Aug. 15 so that contractors could begin work on a similar project at the toe of the East Beach bluff. Terry Contracting based in Riverhead is heading up the project. It’s the same company that worked on the East Beach seawall. The $4.9 million project is expected to take from eight to nine months, according to the village.
In communication to residents, the village said that during construction it will not be safe for the public to be on the beach.
“Heavy equipment and materials will take up most of the parking lot and the beach, not just the work area,” the village announced in its e-newsletter. “The entire site will be an active construction zone with vehicles, equipment, and other material being moved around.”
Stabilizing the bluff is the first priority.
Comparing images from 2017 to 2019 in Garant’s presentation, there is a noticeable loss of vegetation.
“It’s a very dangerous situation at this point,” she said, calling the amount of erosion massive.
GEI, an engineering firm hired by the village to assess the problem and propose a plan, said that the bluff has lost 30,700 cubic yards of material between 2017 and 2021, equivalent to about 1,700 dump truck loads. That material lost from the bluff goes into the Long Island Sound.
The project involves placing coir logs along the base of the slope and timber terracing with native plants, including woody plants, beach and switch grasses to stabilize the bluff. Plans call for the existing concrete ramp and riprap (rocks placed to protect the shoreline from water erosion) to be extended. A riprap will extend out from the new extension of the ramp along the shore between the beach and the terracing going up the bluff.
The revetment project at the toe of the bluff is just the first in a two-part plan to preserve the bluff and save the Port Jefferson Country Club facilities. A second phase is being worked out by the village now. It involves shoring up the top of the bluff to protect the country club facilities and moving back and reconfiguring the tennis courts.
A $10 million bond was approved last year to pay for both phases, according to the village.
West Beach and Harborfront Park beaches will remain open for the season, according to the village.
Top photo: East Beach in Port Jefferson Village. (Credit: Lon Cohen)