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Good Afternoon

Montauk faces up to the cost of rising seas

Waves crash against sand-filled bags and a berm

Waves crash against sand-filled bags and a berm built by the Army Corps of Engineers in Montauk. Credit: Gordon M. Grant

A parable about Long Island’s follies on coastal protection:

In 2015, the Army Corps of Engineers opted to shore up a section of eroded beach in downtown Montauk with a much-derided artificial dune of giant sandbags covered with sand. It told East Hampton Town, which would take over responsibility for the project, that maintenance would cost $1.5 million over 10 years. Before the town took control, though, the Corps twice had to replenish its work because of storm damage, most recently last spring. Now, after March’s nor’easters, the dune is exposed again. And East Hampton has to foot the bill. The expected price tag? Close to $1 million. For one year.

The town is on the hook until the Corps delivers its long-promised Fire Island-to-Montauk plan. Town officials say the specs for that now won’t be ready until December 2019, at best, and that the Corps’ more-protection-via-more-sand strategy won’t be sustainable, either.

East Hampton has no choice but to protect Montauk’s beachfront. It’s critical to the economy and to Long Island’s identity as a seaside community. But this is insanity. And East Hampton officials know it. That’s why they’re doing a smart examination of Montauk’s long-term survival, including options like relocating oceanfront businesses inland and restoring those sites to natural protective dunes and beaches.

It’s a lesson for the rest of Long Island. Plan now, or pay big-time later.