Plans for downtown Montauk’s ocean shoreline are to be presented at East Hampton Town Hall today, and all concerned, particularly owners of properties to the west, should pay close attention.
The Army Corps of Engineers is expected to present at least three options. In order of least to most disruptive, they are a sand-only beach replenishment proposal, an 11-foot-high stone seawall to be buried initially with sand, and a series of groins, also known as jetties, spanning more than a half mile. Money for the project would come from federal millions earmarked for Long Island in Hurricane Sandy relief. Work could begin as soon as next fall.
Nowhere in the material that we have seen does the Army Corps offer the option that nearly all coastal experts recommend — a managed retreat from the shore. And this is a shame. Time and again, Army Corps projects have failed to adequately protect the broad public interest. Now its armor-first mentality threatens long-term destruction of the ocean beaches.
The risk is real that federal funding will dwindle away over time, leaving local taxpayers responsible for the full cost of maintaining the expensive sand replenishment required under any of the Corps’ Montauk options. Consider that funding for work in the nearly 50-year-long Fire Island to Montauk Reformulation Study only came as an add-on to Congress’s post-Sandy handouts. One expects such largess to be available only once every couple of decades, leaving someone else on the hook for repetitive annual costs, in all likelihood. Backers of a special taxation district for Montauk sand replenishment know this, which is why, in one early iteration of their effort, they sought to impose a new tax on every property in the hamlet.
Local support for anything the Corps promotes must be contingent on a full understanding of the costs involved, not in year 1, but for 10, 20, 30, or more years. Equally important will be for the Town of East Hampton to hire a team of independent experts to review all of the options before reaching a conclusion.
In the rush for a solution, irreparable harm could be done to our most cherished public asset, the beaches. And, equally bad, future generations could be left paying for today’s mistakes. If ever there was a time to slow down and get it right, it is now.
Today’s meeting is at 11 a.m. in Town Hall. All concerned about East Hampton’s future should be there.
An earlier version of this editorial said that the work could begin in December. An Army Corps public information spokesman said Thursday that the most-likely start date would be no earlier than the fall.