Long Island has a new annual tradition. It’s not much of a tourist magnet, but it offers ominous photos. Call it the emergence of the sandbags. It takes place in Montauk, and this year it came early.
The sandbags were installed as part of an artificial dune by the Army Corps of Engineers in 2015 to protect Montauk’s downtown from the rising Atlantic Ocean. Every year, it seems, the ocean washes away the sand covering the bags and narrows the beach that brings the tourists who fuel the area’s economy. It cost East Hampton Town nearly $1 million last year to rebuild the dune, as per its agreement with the Corps, and it could cost the town the same again this year if winter nor’easters, as expected, expand the current erosion first observed in August.
East Hampton felt compelled to agree to the Army Corps plan to protect Montauk’s hotels, but the recurring erosion was predictable; the shoreline has moved 44 feet inland since 2000. Now officials are considering creating an erosion control taxing district for Montauk in which members, mostly businesses presumably, could pay up to $17 million for another temporary beach restoration.
Fortunately, town officials view the district as merely a needed bridge to a much better idea — retreat. The town is pursuing a plan to move downtown oceanfront businesses inland and let the abandoned grounds serve as the kind of natural dune that has always been the best barrier. And residents largely agree, given their supportive comments at a public hearing last week. East Hampton should keep moving forward vigorously to make retreat a reality.
Montauk is a lesson for all of Long Island. We can keep paying for short-term solutions doomed to failure, or make tough decisions that offer the best chance for long-term survival. — The editorial board