Move The House? Ocean?

Pull up stakes, says FEMA expert
Walter F. Bundy, a former Federal Emergency Management Agency official, delivered a report, “Description of Flooding Risk Faced by Napeague Stretch Communities,” to the Amagansett Citizens Advisory Committee at its meeting on Monday. Christopher Walsh

    An overflow crowd of members and guests filled the community room of the Amagansett Library on Monday night as the Amagansett Citizens Advisory Committee heard grim predictions from a former official of the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

    Walter F. Bundy, now principal of Coram-based Program Management and Mitigation Services, delivered a report commissioned by the East End Dunes Resident Association, whose members have vocally opposed the creation of a new town beach, with attendant parking and facilities, near their houses on Napeague.

    “We did not get the brunt” of Hurricane Sandy, Mr. Bundy told the gathering. “I was asked to take a look at just where the flooding risks were and how bad it was.”

    His report, “Description of Flooding Risk Faced by Napeague Stretch Communities,” included a wealth of topographic maps and aerial photographs taken immediately after the late-October hurricane. His evaluations and conclusions, he said, were based on historical records, FEMA studies, and projected sea-level rise models.

    “Unfortunately,” Mr. Bundy said, “Napeague means ‘land of flowing water.’ Look at the old maps from the 1800s — you’ll see that most of this was marshland, there were some dunes, and now it’s getting very developed.”

    The land, he said, is slowly sinking and drying out. “We also have sea-level rise, which is anticipated now to start impacting us not by 2100 but by 2050. Some of the predictions of what they’re showing, we’re looking at almost a two-inch-a-year increase in sea-level height. When you look at storm surge that comes along with a hurricane, add that on to it and the storm surge is going to be even more.”

    FEMA’s flood maps, Mr. Bundy continued, show just a small fraction of the true flood risk. A more accurate picture, he said, is illustrated by the SLOSH map (Sea, Lake, and Overland Surge from Hurricanes) included in his report. His SLOSH map of the land surrounding Napeague Harbor depicted flooding that would result from category 1,2,3, and 4 hurricanes. “Category 3 will be overstepping the dunes with a 25-foot wall of water. Category 4 — forget it,” he said.

    With respect to the EEDRA members’ concerns, Mr. Bundy said that “access roads [and] development in the dunes would make these areas the conduit for water coming in from a hurricane long before the dunes come out. Some of these areas only have an elevation of 10, 15 feet at these access points . . . Once it gets inside, it just follows the roads, because the roads are the lowest point . . . There’s no place for it to go, because the properties are going to hold the water back. The only saving grace we have is that we live on sand, and it will drain out.”

    Mr. Bundy, who worked for the Town of Southampton on flood and hazard-mitigation planning for seven years, recommended that the committee work with the Town of East Hampton to ensure federal funding to re-establish the dune system along the ocean. “It’s not going to be an easy task, because every single structure that’s within that dune system is going to be asked to be relocated,” he said. “ ‘Retreat’ is the word everybody should be looking at.”

    “You’re in a very vulnerable area,” Mr. Bundy warned. “Whatever happens to Napeague is going to impact the entire eastern part of Long Island. Once you look at the projected sea-level rise, if this area gets breached, Montauk becomes an island.”

    Kieran Brew, the committee’s chairman, turned to Councilwoman Sylvia Overby, the town board liaison to the committee. “Are these conclusions reasonable?” he asked. “Are they consistent with the town’s policies?”

    The town’s comprehensive plan, and its planning department, take all of this into account, she said, although the town does not discourage people from building on their land if that is their right. Noting that Kim Shaw, the town’s natural resources director, was in attendance, Ms. Overby said, “I want to make sure any decision I make for the community is based on good science, what the community wishes are, so we’re prepared. We do have an emergency preparedness committee that we’re working diligently on with Bruce Bates,” she said, referring to that committee’s coordinator.

    “Whatever happens,” said Mr. Bundy, “it’s going to have to be done with the town, and it’s a long-term project.”

    “It seems like we have two major actions here,” said Mr. Brew. “One of them is retreat, and the other is reconstruction or replenishment. I look at it as simply, would you rather move the house or move the ocean?”

    “Move the house and reconstruct the dunes,” Mr. Bundy suggested.

    Harvey Sands, who lives on Shore Road and said he was a member of EEDRA and a former member of the American Meteorological Society, echoed Mr. Bundy’s conclusions. “We are in danger of the result of ocean rise because of climate warming,” he said. “There’s no question, and anybody that challenges that is from the Dark Ages.”

    Montauk will be an island, he said flatly. “Sandy occurred as a once-in-a-hundred-year storm. Sandy will occur again as a once-in-10-year storm. If Sandy came up through Long Island, the ocean would have been connected to the bay, no question, and Montauk would have been an island. And it’s going to happen again.” Addressing Ms. Overby, he said, “Don’t doubt it, please.”

    Mr. Sands, who identified himself as a member of the Society of American Military Engineers, suggested that “we have to get [the Army Corps of Engineers] to replenish the beaches in Amagansett, not just Montauk.”

    As discussion segued into the town’s possible plan for a new beach along Napeague, Marty Ligorner, who has previously addressed the committee to voice opposition to such a project, repeated his contention that “to get to the beach you have to compromise the dunes . . . any plan to build a beach with parking will compromise and cause additional flooding.”

    “Marty, there’s no consensus on the board to build a beach in the area,” Ms. Overby said. “I have seen no statistics that are pushing us toward a beach. I don’t think anyone should be building a beach until we have all the statistics we need.”

    “Are we building it for us, or are we building for other people to use that  come from other places?” the councilwoman wondered. “I haven’t seen enough data to look positively on trying to build another beach for East Hampton . . . It’s very expensive to build a beach, and I’m not asking taxpayers to pay a lot of money to build a beach that a bus is going to drop other people off in . . . It is a concern to me that we build to what the community really wants and not to what another community might want here.” Most in the room applauded.

    Yet there is “a big push” from the town government to create a beach behind the Lobster Roll restaurant, said Kim Shaw, East Hampton’s director of natural resources. “We really have to take a step back” and evaluate four proposed sites, she said. “Personally, I think we shouldn’t pave paradise . . . we should look at exactly what you said, Sylvia, all our bay beaches and other beaches that have the potential for expansion before we go and pave a pristine area like Napeague. It’s all very preliminary.”

    Ms. Overby reminded the audience that the public was welcome at any town board meeting. “Your concerns are very valid. We will listen,” she said.