Newsday Live and nextLI present a conversation with experts on the impact of powerful storms and rising insurance costs on Long Island hosted by NewsdayTV Anchor/Reporter Macy Egeland. The conversation continues on newsday.com/nextli where we invite Long Islanders to share their experiences on this looming crisis of changing weather patterns, flooding, shoreline protection, home buyouts and more to find potential solutions for the region’s future.

Experts in local government, the insurance industry, the environment and marine science explored how sea level rise could affect South Shore and North Shore communities during a nextLI Town Hall that airs Tuesday on NewsdayTV.

Speakers at the event, titled “Paying the Price” and hosted by NewsdayTV reporter Macy Egeland at Newsday’s Studio 2, discussed the increased risk of heavy storms and flooding, the rising cost of home insurance and the need to quickly transition away from planet-heating fossil fuels.

Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment, based in Farmingdale, emphasized the importance of restoring natural protections along the coasts. She said building sea walls “is not the answer” since a sea wall merely “diverts the water” and “floods the next community.”

She argued, “We have to do things like ensure that our dune systems are intact, we have to replant seagrass beds” and restore wetlands, which are all “critical front line defenses” against the rising seas.

“There are natural solutions,” Esposito said. “But we need to start implementing them very quickly.”

Egeland cued up a short video showing severe erosion on Tobay Beach in Massapequa, and asked Chris Gobler, a professor of marine science at Stony Brook University, about worsening storm damage. “We’ve always had nor’easters,” Gobler said. “What’s changing is climate change.”

Gobler explained that as the planet heats up and the oceans warm, polar ice melts, leading to rising sea levels. Warm water expands, which contributes further to higher seas. Warmer oceans also cause more frequent and more intense storms, including hurricanes. 

Since the mid-20th century, there has been a 75% increase in the volume of rain in storms, Gobler told the audience, “and our infrastructure is not built to deal with that.”

Robert Larocca, executive vice president of SterlingRisk insurance, which is based in Woodbury, said the company is seeing more claims related to severe weather, as post-COVID construction costs remain high.

“It’s more costly to rebuild, and people can’t afford the premiums anymore,” Larocca said.

Dan Panico, Brookhaven Town supervisor, said residents of communities such as Mastic Beach will be priced out of their homes if they can’t pay for insurance, or insurers may refuse to even take the risk. Larocca said some insurers have stopped doing business on Long Island.

Several speakers noted that Long Island will have to change the way it manages its coastlines.

“We can’t develop the way we used to,” Esposito said.

In flood-prone areas, Panico said, repairing infrastructure, rebuilding damaged houses and hardening shorelines no longer makes sense.

“The hardest thing but the right thing is to say no at times,” Panico said. “It’s cheaper [for the state or town] to buy up the property and accept the reality.” Panico said conservatives as well as traditional environmentalists are beginning to understand that “preserving the open space is better than the alternative.” 

The solution to all these crises is “to break our addiction to fossil fuels,” Esposito said. “The quicker we transition, the less damage will be done.”

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