Montauk Shoreline

The million dollars it cost the Town of East Hampton to pile new sand on a row of massive sandbags on the Montauk ocean shoreline is perhaps the most immediate reason why officials are eager to find another way to respond to ongoing erosion there. But money is not the only argument in favor of a new approach. The so-called first row of motels, condominiums, and private houses, about 11 in all, are being protected to some degree by a seawall whose very existence comes at the expense of the public beach, one of the town’s greatest assets.

One answer may come from a plan outlined this week by consultants. Property owners along this threatened stretch would be given transferable development credits, or rights, in exchange for agreeing to walk away from at-risk sites. This would be a financial mechanism by which an earlier idea for replacing Montauk’s oceanfront structures hundreds of yards back from the beach could become a reality. Over time, the motels and other buildings would be taken down and high dunes created in their place. The property owners could build again on a safer site or sell their development credits to others.

As things now stand, taxpayers will be tapped indefinitely to pay to keep the sandbags covered. This is not only expensive; it does not protect the Montauk downtown from catastrophic inundation during a hurricane. Either way, the first row is going to come down eventually, whether through strategic, planned retreat or in chaos. The town is right to try to get ahead of this wildly expensive — and inevitable — disaster.