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Draft hamlet study scales back from some aspects of Montauk retreat 

The shoreline in Montauk receded 44 feet between

The shoreline in Montauk receded 44 feet between 2000 and 2012, according to a draft hamlet study. Credit: Gordon M. Grant

East Hampton Town is softening a draft plan mapping out ways to address sea level rise in Montauk, though the final version will likely still include shoreline retreat as a potential strategy.

Nearly 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 a bold plan to relocate some oceanfront businesses in Montauk landward.

The shoreline receded 44 feet between 2000 and 2012, according to the study, and the state projects the Eastern Long Island sea level could rise 30 inches by 2050.

The hamlet study proposes allowing developers to purchase oceanside properties and transfer those development rights inland, but it does not require a move. Town officials have stressed that taking properties through eminent domain is not mentioned in the document. 

The document does not reference any Montauk hotels by name, but maps clearly show properties along South Emerson Avenue, home to businesses like Royal Atlantic Beach Resorts and popular bar The Sloppy Tuna, vacated and returned to nature.

Consultant and former East Hampton Town planning director Lisa Liquori presented proposed changes to the document during a Dec. 10 town board work session in response to public pushback. Among the suggestions were removing maps and refraining from identifying areas suitable for relocation. The text would still reference relocating existing commercial and residential properties out of low-lying areas.

“I like it. I think it’s better,” said Councilman Jeff Bragman. “We’ve got greater clarity, and I think it could relieve some of the [community's] anxiety."

But a 2013 Managed Coastal Retreat handbook from the Columbia Center for Climate Change Law notes that identifying a receiving area to use development credits is important for the plan’s success.

“Having a relocation plan is crucial for maintaining communities, for gaining public support and for long-term economic development,” the report states.

Town officials said retreat is a concept worth exploring but that a more specific framework should come later.

“It’s a little too much detail for where we are now,” East Hampton Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said of the hamlet study.

Royal Atlantic owner Steve Kalimnios, who said his business attracts 90,000 annual visitors, said he has been asking the board for an economic impact analysis and feasibility study on retreat.

“I still feel there are more questions than answers now after all this time,” Kalimnios said during the meeting. “I have been asking them for more information. Removing pictures and diagrams doesn’t seem to do that.”

Kalimnios also noted the document doesn’t state how it would incentivize hotel owners to reinvest in Montauk rather than collecting an insurance payout and leaving town if they were wiped out in a storm. Encouraging property owners to remain nearby is needed to maintain the tax base and community character, according to the managed retreat handbook.

The board will likely revise the document and could hold a public hearing on the hamlet study in January, Van Scoyoc said. 

He noted that the town in recent years has spent about $1 million annually to nourish downtown Montauk with sand and said East Hampton is now “playing Russian Roulette” with the ocean.

“The history of any civilization is they adapt to work through these changes or they just don’t and disappear,” Van Scoyoc said.

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