The good news in a recent New York Times Science section story about sea level rise is that Montauk’s tide records lag behind those in places along the eastern United States coastline that are becoming inundated the fastest. The bad news is that the advantage is not by much. According to the numbers, the waters have come up about a foot every 100 years and are coming faster, with the greatest increases in the mid-Atlantic states. This means that the landward migration of the shoreline will continue unabated here, and even get faster. Property owners and local officials who ignore this are simply kidding themselves.
In December, the Eastern Long Island Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation, an environmental group, issued a statement supporting major changes along the Montauk oceanfront. It called for one of the Army Corps of Engineers options: rebuilding protective dunes after removing several motels and residences that are now in harm’s way. This echoed a view expressed on this page earlier in 2013 to the effect that think-big solutions were the best choice.
Pumping sand in front of exposed properties at this late stage would be a temporary solution at best and a waste of both money and precious time before a better one is at hand. Rather than outright property condemnation, however, town and federal officials should consider more creative redevelopment of the seaward edge of downtown Montauk, perhaps granting motel owners air rights over existing retail parcels or the use of nearby lots that are vacant or underutilized.
Meanwhile, away from the most obvious at-risk spots, shoreline restoration projects continue. These, too, must be re-evaluated and incentives found to coax property owners into long-term decisions. East Hampton Town needs to rethink fast how it interacts with the waters that surround us. The sea will not wait while policymakers wonder what to do.