If the East Hampton Town Board had set out to appoint a potentially unproductive committee to chart erosion policy for the future, it certainly succeeded at a meeting on Dec. 4.
Among the group of 10 people, three run Montauk waterfront hotels, one sells real estate, and another operates an earth-moving business. Two are members of the town board: one a lawyer and property-rights stalwart, the other a builder. Two hail from local environmental groups. You get the picture.
This is not to say that the views of the members of this committee should be ignored. It is simply that a different, more measured approach would be necessary to gain an unbiased assessment of the town’s existing shoreline laws and whether they are adequate and in the best interest of the East Hampton population as a whole — beachgoers as well as those on whom fortune has smiled.
After roughly a decade of work, the Town of East Hampton had its own detailed coastal hazard plan approved by Albany in 2007, and by the United States Office of Ocean and Coastal Resources Management the following year. This allowed the town to take over from the state most regulation of responses to erosion. At the time, we had doubts about the wisdom of handing such politically charged work over to local elected officials. Now, that concern appears to be borne out.
East Hampton Town Supervisor Bill Wilkinson, whose close ally, Councilwoman Theresa Quigley, urged the creation of the new committee, has several times told town employees to go ahead and violate local and state regulations when waters have threatened private property. At the Dec. 4 meeting, Mr. Wilkinson remarked that the town’s overarching coastal policy law was merely a “snapshot in time.” Presumably, he meant it could be rewritten under cover of the new committee.
As scientific predictions about the pace of sea-level rise are becoming better understood it is reasonable that the town, villages, and other shoreline communities take a good look at their response planning and determine whether changes are needed. This can only be meaningful if the review is undertaken by professionals with the best credentials. Long Island has no shortage of universities whose talent could be tapped to produce a comprehensive analysis. Only when that was done would the opinions of ordinary citizens and stakeholders, such as beachfront property owners, be appropriate and valuable.
The new committee is certainly going to reconsider the Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan. But before doing so it should call for and oversee a professional analysis. Any group challenged to consider changes in erosion-control policy should include people with deep personal interests in the shoreline. But it should not, at the outset, be dominated by those for whom one particular outcome is a foregone conclusion.