Downtown Montauk's ocean beach will soon see the addition of 450,000 cubic yards of sand as the Fire Island to Montauk Point Reformulation project, more than six decades in the making, begins this winter or early spring. Jane Bimson

NY - Editorial: No Time for Celebration

Amid celebratory statements in East Hampton Town Hall about a plan to put sand on the downtown Montauk beach, a stark reality remained: Nothing other than talk has been done to actually address coastal retreat.

That whoosh you heard overhead this week was the sound of sensible coastal management being punted to another generation. Amid celebratory statements in East Hampton Town Hall and from civic groups about a plan to put sand on the downtown Montauk beach, a stark reality remained: Nothing other than talk has been done to actually lead to a necessary policy centered on coastal retreat.

It was with a breathless sense of success that the town announced this week that the Army Corps had agreed to fund pumping hundreds of thousands of cubic yards of offshore sand and spreading it on the ocean beach in downtown Montauk. This is where about 11 private properties, mostly in the hospitality business, would have already plunged into the sea if it were not for a costly and illegal sandbag sea wall running the length of the beach. Since the sea wall was completed, town and county taxpayers have footed the bill for annual sand replenishment there. As in any eroding shorefront, anything that blocks the ocean’s desire to continually push landward, such as a bulkhead or revetment or sandbags, results in the beach going away.

Experts are in consensus that, over time, the only way for houses and businesses to remain near eroding shorelines is to move away from them.

That may seem counterintuitive, but a shift to higher ground is the only practical long-term solution. Indeed, East Hampton officials’ own research concluded that the town would be a “series of islands” by about 2070. The cause they acknowledged was rising sea level — a worldwide problem, but from the United States Army Corps of Engineers to the East Hampton Town Board, that reality has not sunk in. The Army Corps in particular is in the business of building things; it is not interested much in moving structures back from the sea.

There was no funding for Montauk in the Corps’s earlier plan, but town officials lobbied hard. According to a press release this week, the Army Corps will pick up the first $11.2 million estimated cost of the sand-pumping. The work is expected to begin this winter, after a similar project at Fire Island is completed, the town said. In subsequent years, the cost of periodic beach “renourishment” would be shared among the town, county, state, and federal government — for 30 years. A back-of-the-napkin calculation would put the cost of the three-decade effort at $75 million in 2023 dollars.

With the new 30-year plan announced, the “first row” resorts that should have been relocated will remain in place and instantly rise in value. New or present owners will pour millions of dollars into renovations and expansion, further putting pressure on East Hampton governments of the future to protect them. A growth-inducing sewage treatment plant envisioned for this part of the hamlet now seems a sure thing. Moreover, the town is locking taxpayers years from today into paying for both the sand and increased infrastructure costs.

Given the pressure on them to maintain the status quo, it is no surprise that town officials would be eager to frame their cop-out as a victory. It means that actually doing the right thing on coastal erosion will be somebody else’s problem. That is hardly something to be giddy about.

Read more.