A voluntary buyout program of flood-prone properties in downtown Montauk...

A voluntary buyout program of flood-prone properties in downtown Montauk would be the most-effective strategy, albeit an expensive one, for eliminating risk from climate change, according to a hamlet study on rising sea levels. Credit: Randee Daddona

Moving Montauk oceanfront businesses inland, a concept known as strategic retreat, should be considered as a potential tool in addressing sea level rise, according to a planning document adopted by East Hampton Town last week.

A voluntary buyout program of flood-prone properties would be the most effective strategy, albeit an expensive one, for eliminating risk from climate change, the report states. The shoreline receded 44 feet between 2000 and 2012, the study notes, and the state projects the Eastern Long Island sea level could rise 30 inches by 2050.

“Whereas acquisition is a relatively high priced coastal adaptation measure, it is a cost effective one-time investment,” the study says.

More than two years ago, consultants unveiled drafts of the town’s hamlet studies, which offer long-range planning visions aimed at maintaining East Hampton’s status as a world-class resort and second-home destination. The documents’ suggestions ranged from traffic reconfigurations and improving aesthetics to the Montauk retreat strategy.

Final versions of the Amagansett, East Hampton, Springs, Montauk and Wainscott studies were approved May 7 by the town board on a 5-0 vote after an endorsement by the Suffolk County Planning Commission.

The studies were crafted by a variety of planning consultants and with community involvement over nearly four years. They will be folded into the town’s comprehensive plan.

"Community response and comments shaped these plans and I am proud that East Hampton has, once again, been in the forefront of thoughtful planning and protection of our quaint hamlets,” town Councilwoman Sylvia Overby, who oversaw the process, said in a statement.

The planning documents were largely met with support from community groups, including Concerned Citizens of Montauk, after they were presented. But some have voiced concerns about the Montauk hamlet study, which proposes a transfer of development rights program to shift development inland, with business owners saying the plan was too drastic and environmentalists saying it wasn't aggressive enough.

Kevin McAllister, president of the Sag Harbor-based environmental group Defend H20, said the language is vague and nonbinding. The final version of the Montauk hamlet study removed maps identifying streets to be relocated and softens language included in the earlier draft. The 2018 version recommended relocating infrastructure inland, while the adopted version instead said that option “should be considered.”

“This document is really the status quo,” McAllister said.

But Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said a faster timeline is unrealistic.

“You have to reach consensus with the community,” he said.

Some business owners feared retreat could have a negative effect on the resort economy.

“It takes an academic approach and views relocating properties as if they were on a Monopoly board,” reads one business owner’s comment incorporated into the study.  “It proposes relocating or removing 500 motels, out of a total of 3,000, which is drastic.”

Van Scoyoc noted a major storm could also be devastating to the local economy if development isn’t protected. He also said the process will require further economic study and planning.

“Montauk will continue to be a viable and vital area, and I think that really is what our goal is,” he said.

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