The Beaches of Mammon

Photo: Wainscott Photo

Over thousands of years, sediment from Montauk’s cliffs has swept west in the Atlantic tide, causing the Long Island beach to gradually creep outward. But human interventions designed to expand beaches even further have triggered erosion, destroying the dunes. And “once the dunes go,” says East Hampton Natural Resources Department director Larry Penny, “next goes the house.”

The East Hampton Jetty Problem
During the sixties, Pan Am founder Juan Trippe pushed Suffolk County and the Army Corps of Engineers to build several “groins” (structures built into the water, perpendicular to the beach) that interrupted the flow of Hamptons sand on his property. These created wider beaches in front of his mansion (now owned by Kelly Klein, Calvin’s ex-wife), but, residents say, deprived the shore to the west, on Wainscott and Sagaponack, of sand, causing erosion that threatens home foundations.

Who’s Most Affected
Residents of Beach Lane in Wainscott, which is to the immediate west of East Hampton.

Number of homes on Beach Lane

Who Owns Them
Saturday Night Live producer Marci Klein;Real-estate investor Irving Paler; Cosmetics heir Ronald Lauder; private-equities honcho and Vitaminwater investor Harvey Silverman; J.Crew CEO Mickey Drexler; former Wasserstein Perella president Fred Seegal; lawyer Michael Kennedy and his wife, Eleanora.

The Short-Term Solution
Homeowners must bring in sand compatible in color and texture with the existing beach. The sand, which comes from local quarries or is dredged from Georgica Pond, is shaped into dunes and planted with beach grass and posts that help hold the dune in place while it sets.

Does It Work?
Briefly. Irving Paler has had the dunes in front of his house replaced more than fifteen times in the past 27 years. Ronald Lauder, whose $100,000 dune-restoration job last year was destroyed by a nor’easter, has now resorted to strapping jumbo plastic bags of sand, called “geo-cubes,” to his property.

The Lawsuit
A Sagaponack homeowner, later joined by the town of Southampton, sued Suffolk County in 1999, attempting to force them to remove or shorten the groins. But they eventually lost their case in 2008 when a judge—despite the success of a similar case brought by residents of Westhampton on the island’s opposite shore—ruled that they had failed to prove that local beach erosion wasn’t simply caused by natural forces. During the case, Suffolk County estimated that removing the groins by Kelly Klein’s house—one groin alone, made of giant boulders, juts 300 feet into the water at a depth of up to twenty feet—would cost upward of $100 million.

20 Years
Approximate amount of time it will take Billy Joel’s Sagaponack house—just up the shore from Beach Lane—to wash into the sea without further intervention. Said Joel when he bought the home: “Who cares what’s going to happen in twenty years?”

cubic yards of sand needed to restore 100 feet of dune

cost of materials and labor

Have good intel? Send tips to

The Beaches of Mammon