Digest>Archives> April 2007

Erosion Protection For Montauk Lighthouse Creates Waves

By Bill Bleyer


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Montauk Point Lighthouse showing erosion problems ...

After five years of planning the best way to protect the Montauk Point Lighthouse from future erosion, the Army Corps of Engineers says a rock wall is the way to go.

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View from the lantern room taken by Montauk ...

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Assistant Montauk lighthouse keeper George ...

While many groups involved with the beacon support the rock concept, there has been one voice of dissent throughout the Corps’ planning process: the East End Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation. The surfing and environmental group says forget the wall and just move back the lighthouse back from the point.

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View of Montauk Lighthouse taken by assistant ...

After completing a $1-million feasibility study last fall, the Corps recommended spending $14 million to replace a 450-foot revetment or wall made from boulders placed by the Coast Guard in 1992 with a bigger wall. It would be made of 12.6-ton boulders extending out 840 feet to bracket the easternmost tip of Long Island. The project, designed to last 50 years, has the enthusiastic support of the Montauk Historical Society, which now owns the lighthouse.

But Surfrider proposes jacking up the lighthouse commissioned by George Washington, sliding it down the hill and across two parking lots to a new site far from the bluff. The Corps has looked at and rejected that idea, saying it would cost $27 million, ruin the historic nature of the site and could cause the structure to crumble.

“It’s putting a Band-Aid on erosion,” said Tom Naro of Hampton Bays, chairman of the Surfrider chapter. “If you are able to retreat and give really long-term protection to this historic structure, that to us is a better choice.”

But Frank Verga, the Corps project engineer said of the existing wall, “I wouldn’t call it a failure. It has lasted 16 years. It’s still out there and it’s still working.”

The Coast Guard’s rocks were augmented by 950 feet of rocks installed by the Montauk Historical Society and the state between 1992 and 1997 so the entire point has been stabilized with the lighthouse sitting 75 feet from the bluff. But Verga said that because of the size of the stones installed by the Coast Guard and their height up the bluff, the existing revetment is susceptible to waves breaking over it and pulling the rocks away from the bluff. So the new wall would replace the existing one and extend out an average of 20 feet farther, running down into the water and 12 feet under the existing bottom.

Naro said “there’s always environmental impact from putting boulders in.” His group has contacted the firms that moved lighthouses on Block Island, Cape Cod and North Carolina and was told the move would be difficult but possible without damage.

Verga said “the proposed project will have no perceptible impacts on surfing or beach erosion.” He moving the structure down off the bluff would be a problem. “They talk about other lighthouses that have been moved. But those were more on flat terrain and more easily maneuverable.”

Greg Donohoe, a trustee of the Montauk Historical Society and the group’s director of erosion control, said “We feel very good about the corps project because it’s the first time there has been an engineered plan.” He said “moving the lighthouse is only feasible if you take it down brick by brick” because the building is so fragile.

This story appeared in the April 2007 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.

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