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Town committees face the crisis at Reel Point

JIM COLLIGAN PHOTO After the March 2 nor’easter, this view of Reel Point shows waves that have carved out extenisve sections, something Waterways Management Advisory Council Chairman John Needham called ‘alarming.’
JIM COLLIGAN PHOTO After the March 2 nor’easter, this view of Reel Point shows waves that have carved out extenisve sections, something Waterways Management Advisory Council Chairman John Needham called ‘alarming.’

Severe erosion resulting from a series of nor’easters have wreaked havoc on Reel Point. Waterways Management Advisory Council (WMAC) Chairman John Needham termed the damage done by the most recent storms as “alarming.”

Nature’s carving away of the land has sparked a realization among officials close to the situation that a $4 million plan at shoring up the point will eventually need a more long-term fix.

Reel Point is the spit of land jutting from the southern tip of Big Ram Island, a natural barrier that once guarded Coecles Harbor and the homes and businesses that line its shore from high seas and destructive storms.

Businesses in the area that could be affected if Reel Point is lost include Coecles Harbor Marina, Clark’s Marina, The Ram’s Head Inn and CH Marine Yacht Builders. In addition, failure to save the point could destroy private properties on Ram Island and the Pandion luxury residential development being constructed on the former St. Gabriel’s site.

The area continues to be threatened — as it has been in the past — by unimpeded waves moving westward from Point Judith, Rhode Island, gathering strength across 40 nautical miles before making a landfall on Shelter Island.

“Mother Nature is Mother Nature,” Councilman Jim Colligan told the WMAC Monday night and then repeated a message at Tuesday morning’s Grants Committee meeting that doing nothing will be catastrophic.

“Overwash is becoming an overriding problem,” Mr. Colligan said.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Mr. Colligan morning agreed with Town Engineer John Cronin that implementing a $4 million plan as soon as possible is critical while exploring a long-term solution that could cost $25 million.

Thanks to plans to use workers from the town’s Public Works Department, a lot of the expense will be saved. But there’s still an issue of the cost of materials. Public Works Commissioner Jay Card Jr. expects to work out a deal with Riverhead of a free exchange of mulch from Shelter Island for heavy cobble stones. Mr. Card might also be able to get some large boulders from Orient.

Still, using town workers, while reducing cost, has to be factored in since those employees would have to juggle that work with other projects.

At issue is who pays for the work and materials, including how much of the money will come from Peconic Land Trust, Reel Point’s owner. Some tax money can be spent by the town, even it doesn’t own the property, because its interests lie in protecting town assets, businesses and residences surrounding Coecles Harbor.

The Grants Committee is calling on Supervisor Gary Gerth to meet with Peconic Land Trust founder John Halsey to discuss the nonprofit’s potential contribution and ideas for a long-term solution.

But now, failing to move on the short-term plan would be a disaster, Mr. Cronin said at the Grants Committee meeting. “We can sit and talk until the cows come home,” Mr. Cronin said.

But the longer people “twiddle thumbs” to try to do the ideal project, nothing will get done and rapid erosion will continue, he said.

“You will have initially bought yourself some time” in proceeding with a three-part program of putting 3-inch to 10-inch cobble on the eastern side of Reel Point; using piles of dirt that were the spoils from the last dredging to shore up the spine in the center of the point; and planting the area with vegetation and shoring up the west side of the land.

“This fix helps stabilize Reel Point,” Mr. Cronin said.

At the same time, Mr. Colligan said the public should understand a more expensive project lies ahead.

On Monday night, Mr. Colligan suggested the town might to look to the Army Corps of Engineers to handle the larger project.

There are more frequent storms bringing higher surfs and brutal winds, he said, due to the reality of global warming. Mr. Cronin said the premise of using the cobbles on the eastern side would be to dissipate some of the energy of those waves as they slam into Reel Point.

Assessor Craig Wood, who is schooled in landscape architecture, warned it could be a waste of money to plant vegetation, saying it wouldn’t take root in time to help stabilize the spine of the land.

But Mr. Cronin said he’s hoping with the cobble on the eastern side of Reel Point reducing some of the impact of waves, the vegetation could help stabilize the land mass.

At the same time, he warned the Grants Committee that whatever course the town and Peconic Land Trust choose, they can’t walk away when work is done. Some vegetation will be lost and there will be an ongoing need for maintenance, he said.