Science Required On the Rising Sea

   Confronted with the threat of losing valuable property, people have made all sorts of claims about why the sea is rising and taking away land. As impassioned as some of these views are and as plausible as some sound, they should never by themselves be the basis for coastal planning. Rather, as laborious and time-consuming as it may be, there can be no substitute for solid science where official responses to erosion are concerned. Knowing in advance to the highest degree possible why a particular littoral phenomenon is taking place is a necessary prerequisite to actions that do not make matters worse, limit public access to the shoreline, and waste taxpayers’ dollars, or all of the above.
    Consider three examples: Some Lazy Point homeowners say the erosion in front of their houses is the result of a nearby deeply dredged inlet at Napeague Harbor. In Sagaponack, oceanfront property owners see three stone jetties at Georgica as the source of their woes. A north-facing Montauk neighborhood suffering repeated blows would be saved if only sand from one side of the Montauk Harbor inlet were sent to their side. Each of these beliefs might be borne out if studies were done, but it is equally likely that they are gross simplifications of highly complex and variable coastal processes.
    The elected and appointed officials who have to grapple with increasing cries for help from the owners of waterfront properties must look past the emotions involved in each situation and demand analysis from unbiased, credentialed authorities. Failure to understand the science behind what is going on will doom projects along the beaches to failure, and perhaps even harm public resources.
    Sound decision-making about erosion and dredging is a challenging responsibility for those in charge, and we do not envy them the task. However, shortcuts, sympathies, and haste are to be avoided in favor of well-informed deliberations that will stand the tests of time — and nature.