Counterproductive Project

A number of owners of Montauk resort properties have been speaking out recently for the right to tax themselves to pay for placing protective sand on the downtown beach. Their eagerness is understandable; we are entering the height of hurricane season with winter northeasters breathing down our necks not that far behind. While sand might be attractive as a short-term solution to the chronic erosion there, it would be a tragic mistake for East Hampton Town to allow the plan to go forward at this time.

Downtown Montauk’s problems with the sea go back a very long time. In the early 19th century, the town fathers paid a man to build a stone wall to close up the place where the ocean breached the beach and rushed into Fort Pond during a storm. A 1,600-foot-long boardwalk erected by the Montauk Beach Development Corporation in the 1920s is long gone, as is a bathing casino that once stood near the shore. Winter storms and hurricanes have nibbled near the foundations of a number of the oceanfront hotels. And the United States Army Corps of Engineers contracted out a project to armor more than 3,000 linear feet of dunes in front of the most-exposed properties with rock-hard buried sandbags. 

Now, as sea level rise and ongoing erosion loom, we cannot fault property owners for wanting to preserve their positions. The problem is that, should the town board agree, it will make the necessary, but more difficult, solution of buyouts and a managed retreat to higher ground much more unlikely. Doubling down, the town is also trying to offset the cost of a planned sewage treatment plant for downtown Montauk by imposing large fees on the same shoreline properties. 

The idea of gradually moving businesses, condominiums, and hotels away from the brink is not new, but the concept gained authority when it was included in a study of the future of Montauk commissioned by the town. To allow infrastructure changes that could lock in the continued existence of threatened beachfront development would be a disaster that could eventually threaten the entire downtown. To do so in a hurry, before the town’s own highly touted study is adopted, would set a new standard of government incompetence.