The Mast-Head: The New Normal

A sense of how things should and should not be
David E. Rattray

Not since Hurricane Sandy had I seen tides that flooded and then stayed high for days. The winter storm that arrived on Friday did this, and I am worried.

I am old enough and have lived in the same spot long enough to have a sense of how things should and should not be. The bay has been at odds with what should be, but scientists tell us this is the new normal.

Down South, coastal communities have seawater in the streets even on blue-sky days. A raging East River for more than 24 hours after last week’s storm closed two lanes of Manhattan’s F.D.R. Drive. Scituate and Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts were flooded through Sunday.

Here, Gardiner’s Bay rose and never really went down again. Storm waves tore at the dunes and toward the foundations of several houses near the old Promised Land fishmeal factory. With the tides remaining so high, groundwater that normally would have seeped through the dunes into the bay had no place to go. The swamps alongside Cranberry Hole Road filled, turned into ponds, and then rose more, joining into one long wetland even as the rain became a memory.

Even on the ocean and with a hard north wind, it was the same. Each time I checked the beach at Georgica and Main, my eyes suggested that the tide was near peak, even if the charts insisted otherwise. Same thing in Montauk, where I stood on one of the expensive staircases the Army Corps of Engineers built over its sandbag earthworks. White water surged under my feet as I descended to take a picture of the Atlantic Terrace hotel.

There is no beach to speak of left at downtown Montauk now. Taxpayers will have to pay to truck sand in before the summer season. At ordinary high tide on Gardiner’s Bay, you cannot walk around one corner of one neighbor’s house anymore. At Lazy Point, two houses are already in the water and two more look about to join them. Gerard Drive was again overtopped by waves, leaving stones on the pavement. 

We had better get used to it, the sea is only going to rise a whole lot more before it’s done.