The Public’s Interest Must Take Precedence

The rationale behind setting out zones where seawalls were allowed and where they were not was based on considerable observation and thought

The East Hampton Town Zoning Board of Appeals has it exactly right in asking an applicant for a rock revetment in Montauk for a full environmental impact study before proceeding.

John Ryan, who owns a bluff-top house overlooking the Atlantic, has a big problem. Erosion is eating away at the property. But East Hampton Town banned so-called hard structures on the beaches there, and in much of the rest of town, in about 2005 when it adopted a comprehensive Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan. This plan was the product of more than a decade of effort, and it carries the weight of state law. It should bind the zoning board’s hand.

The rationale behind setting out zones where seawalls were allowed and where they were not was based on considerable observation and thought. It is clear that in the places where dunes or bluffs are fortified with stone, wood, or steel, security for private property comes at an unacceptable cost — the loss of beaches over which the public has a centuries-old right of passage. Armoring also results in the loss of habitat, potentially including that of the plover, on the federal list of endangered species, and myriad others that depend on untrammeled nature for nesting, feeding, and resting places during migration.

Mr. Ryan is hardly alone in his hope to stem the tides. This week the town zoning board also heard from a group of property owners whose Louse Point area bluffs in Springs are being eaten away. Together, they are asking for hundreds of feet of rock, which would almost certainly mean the end of the beach there, as it has nearby, and dire down-drift effects.

Officials at every level must begin to recognize when protecting private property comes at the too high price of the loss of the people’s access to the shore. East Hampton’s beaches are valuable to all of us, residents and visitors alike, and no more should be sacrificed to save anyone’s house.

The board will study the environmental impact as presented by Mr. Ryan, but that work was done long ago as part of the town’s coastal hazard plan. The conclusion was clear: There can be no hard structures there.