Stepping Back From the Brink

Hurricane Sandy can be credited with spurring interest at the federal and state level in long-term thinking

    An effort to respond to coastal erosion and flooding in low-lying areas here took a step forward recently when East Hampton Town made exploratory buyout offers to property owners. This is an important development that responds to the increasing threat to the waterfront and the concomitant certainty of losing public beaches if seawalls and other permanent structures are allowed.

    Hurricane Sandy can be credited with spurring interest at the federal and state level in long-term thinking. In terms of timing, the possibility of grant money from outside town has coincided with a change of leadership away from a rocks-first mentality. The new outlook better responds to climate change, sea level rise, and the simple effect of time along the shore.

    A change in the state law that established the Peconic Bay Region Community Preservation Fund means that the money can now be used to buy erosion and flood-prone properties. Similarly, a program administered by the United States Department of Agriculture could provide the cash to buy threatened house lots at pre-Sandy prices and remove all their structures. In a trial effort, letters intended to gauge interest in participation went to about 120 owners at Lazy Point, Amagansett.

    Right now, available federal money is limited to about $100 million, and there is considerable competition for preservation fund cash for other types of purchases. Nonetheless, removing houses from the most troubled spots is likely to happen, if somewhat modestly at first.

    Over all, the program is a good start. For decades, the experts have said that the only rational policy is one of retreat. Officials at nearly every level appear to be taking that message to heart. In the long run, the community will be better served by a managed and well-considered step back from the shore.