Puzzling Policy From the D.E.C.

From an East Hampton perspective a baffling document from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation arrived last week, a draft policy paper designed to encourage  natural, or “living,” shorelines, as opposed to hard structures, for erosion control. 

The policy draft is puzzling in that a preference for so-called soft solutions has long been expressed, and is, in fact, state and local law. The regulations, of course, have been notably ignored, as in the downtown Montauk Army Corps project, which was illegal both in concept and execution. 

For the most part, the proposed guidelines are concerned with bay and estuary shorelines, not high-energy ocean beaches, but they are worrying nontheless. They call for sand replenishment and replacing native vegetation instead of building seawalls or rock revetments. But they still allow for “structural components,” a provision that should be eliminated in the final document. 

Boulder revetments allowed in a state living shoreline policy paper would create challenges for environmental planners working for eastern Long Island governments, where they are for the most part banned. And, as state authorities should know, structural responses to erosion inevitably result in the loss of beaches. Troubling, too, is a section that would allow for looser regulation of the kind of fill material that could be placed on beaches and in restored estuaries. This would have to be tightened and made consistent with town-level regulations.

More favorably, the draft acknowledges climate change and related sea-level rise, calling for a better estimate of possible coastal inundation in years to come and how living shoreline projects must take them into account. But this is contradicted in the details by the allowance for even limited revetments. 

State policy statements like this should include adaptable, living shorelines. However, the core idea must be managed retreat. By promoting structural answers in the coastal zones, the state risks violating any number of existing laws, such as East Hampton Town’s Local Waterfront Revitalization Program, as well as its own regulations.

A comment period ends on Feb. 8. Interested readers can find the draft at dec.ny.gov.