When Hurricane Sandy blew through last month, it left in its wake a shoreline severely battered by a surge of water that no one in these parts has seen in decades. This was true all along the coast — from Montauk Point to New Jersey.
And while nothing on the East End can compare to the devastation experienced by residents to our west who live in densely packed waterfront neighborhoods at the ocean’s edge, with this storm we have witnessed a radical alteration of one of our most treasured resources — our beaches.
So it’s not by accident the Southampton Town Board voted this week to move forward with a $26 million beach nourishment project for the six-mile stretch of oceanfront from Flying Point Road in Water Mill to Towline Road in Sagaponack. This is a project that had been discussed earlier this year in town hall, but was temporarily placed on the back burner.
Sandy quickly moved it to the front of the line.
Though the stretch of sand in question is more than six miles away, this is an important issue in Sag Harbor as these are the closest public ocean beaches residents may use — and the dunes along this stretch were virtually decimated by Sandy’s high water.
A lot of communities in New York and New Jersey are now going to have to take a hard look at beach remediation and how they will pay for it. Southampton is doing exactly that with this plan … at $26 million.
That’s a lot of money. But the amazing part of this story is that a group representing most of the oceanfront homeowners along the stretch have stepped forward to say they are willing to foot the bill for the lion’s share of the project, as well as half of the town’s $3 million share. The town is expecting to use funds already set aside for its portion — which means this project costs non-oceanfront taxpayers nothing.
The plan still has to be put up for a referendum in the coming months, with voting only by those oceanfront residents who would foot the bill, but early indications are this is a program most of them would like to see become a reality as much as the town.
This is the sort of public/private partnership we can get behind, and the town board should be commended for seeing the necessity of moving forward with this plan sooner rather than later. Frankly, we don’t feel the town really has any other choice. With sea-level rise and global warming, hurricanes like Sandy are likely to be a more constant presence in years to come.
We’re living in a fantasy land if we think we can stave off the ocean for generations simply by adding sand to the beaches. But this project, which would be insured for 10 years, is the only hope we’ve got. And we should be happy — unlike many other communities, we have homeowners willing (and more importantly, able) to pay for it.
But with this plan to save the beaches (at least for the moment) comes some serious trepidation on our part. We are adamant that public beach access not be threatened as a result of this public/private effort to shore up the shore. Yes, oceanfront homeowners are generously willing to help preserve the beach — and for that we are grateful. But even if they pay for the sand in front of their homes, the beach is still open to all. Protecting beach access is a big deal for us — since people in Sag Harbor don’t have it.
On another note, we would love to see the creation of a truly viable, regional erosion control plan for the East End. Homeowners making individual efforts to put sand in front of their own homes won’t work if homeowners around them are not doing it at the same time or in the right way. Which is why we need long-term comprehensive solutions — whether that be federally funded beach re-nourishment or the removal of misplaced jetties that have contributed to beach erosion for decades.
In the end, it’s all just a bunch of shifting sand. So let’s figure out how to hang onto it as long as we can.