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Support builds for proposal to move Montauk's downtown inland

A view looking east shows erosion along the

A view looking east shows erosion along the ocean beach near the Atlantic Terrace Hotel in Montauk on Nov. 27. The beach has eroded enough to expose sand bags that were placed beneath the sand. Credit: Gordon M. Grant

Environmentalists and East End community members expressed support Thursday night for a proposal to move Montauk’s downtown inland as a means of dealing with sea level rise caused by climate change, though some said the plan didn’t go far enough.

The broad outline is part of East Hampton Town’s hamlet studies, which lay out long-term plans for the town’s five hamlets. The Montauk recommendation calls for creating a new resort/mixed use corridor along Essex Street and shifting the downtown center inland toward the intersection with Montauk Highway, which is at a higher elevation, among other measures.

Most of those who spoke at Thursday's public hearing at East Hampton Town Hall were in favor of the "strategic retreat" plan, which is a response to a shoreline that has moved 44 feet inland since 2000, according to the report.

“There is no way to avoid the inevitable,” said Carl Irace, an attorney representing Sag Harbor-based Defend H20. Irace said the town could either deliberately retreat from the shore “or Mother Nature takes it by force with disruption, loss of property or worse.”

The report does not identify specific Montauk businesses that would need to move farther inland, but a map of areas prone to flooding includes properties along South Emerson Avenue, a stretch that includes several motels.

Some community members recommended moving other Montauk infrastructure — like a recommended neighborhood wastewater treatment system — to higher ground. They cited the latest National Climate Assessment, released on Nov. 23, that projects a worst-case scenario of 11 feet of sea level rise by 2100.

“You’re going to have to move up,” said Paul Fiondella of East Hampton.

Others criticized the town’s outreach to business owners and community members, with some stating they had heard little about the plan that could reshape their hamlet.

When Uihlein’s Marina owner Henry Uihlein tells his friends and colleagues about the plan, he said, “they think I’m nuts.”

“I just want the facts,” Uihlen said as he accepted a copy of the several hundred-page report from Councilman David Lys.

The town board voted 5-0 to keep the record open for 30 days before beginning an environmental review of the study and eventually adopting it into the town’s comprehensive plan. The finer details, like how to negotiate a development of transfer rights with low-lying business owners, would still need to be worked out after the adoption.

“There is a great deal of work and planning that still have to take place,” said Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc. “Having the community engaged and involved as we move forward is absolutely crucial in making an informed decision.”

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