Residents from Manhattan to Montauk came together in Brentwood Saturday to discuss the issue of, and potential solutions to, coastal erosion.
Getting people to support legislation addressing climate threats to coastal communities such as erosion was the main focus of the National Audubon Society and Audubon New York’s second annual Long Island Climate Conference, held at the Sisters of St. Joseph Academy.
During one panel on coastal resilience, attendees recalled their experiences during superstorm Sandy in 2012. Stories ranged from people’s homes being flooded to being without power for days to another man remembering his daughter fearfully shouting over the phone, “I’m going to die!” as she called from Manhattan, where flooding knocked out an East Village electric substation and water poured into tunnels on the island's east and west sides.
“Here on Long Island and in the New York City area, we know what this is like,” said David Ringer, chief network officer at the National Audubon Society. “We know what these storms can do as sea levels continue to rise and storms get stronger and more intense.”
With that knowledge, Ringer said the conference’s goal was to educate people on what they could do to take action in their communities to mitigate such issues. For example, residents can build a local team by recruiting three other people who want to take action, thereby multiplying their power and increasing their reach, according to the society's website.
Meanwhile, on the legislative front, the society is taking steps to address the environmental issues posed by these storms.
The society is working on several pieces of legislation that would discourage development in undeveloped coastal areas that are high-hazard locations during storms, yet are beneficial areas for birds to nest and stop over as they migrate, said Karen Hyun, vice president of coastal conservation at the National Audubon Society in Washington.
In addition, the society is planning to add their feedback once the state Department of Environmental Conservation updates its wetlands inventory in 2019.
Once the wetlands mapping is updated, it — combined with coastal erosion mapping that the federal government is conducting — would give Long Island communities “a better idea of where they should focus development,” said Erin McGrath, Audubon New York's policy manager.
“Especially on Long Island, we’re looking at ways that we can encourage folks to retreat from the coast either through voluntary buyouts or through setbacks,” McGrath said. “And I think these maps will really help communities that don’t have the resources to figure that out for themselves to have that information at their fingertips and make a smarter choice of where they put new residential developments or state infrastructure projects in the future.”