An aerial view of the eroded bluff along the tennis courts...

An aerial view of the eroded bluff along the tennis courts at the village-owned country club in Port Jefferson. Credit: GEI Consultants Inc. P.C.

Many taxpayer dollars have been spent fighting erosion along Long Island’s fragile South Shore, damaged by pounding storms and rising sea levels. The crisis might not seem as dramatic along the North Shore, but is very serious all the same. From Great Neck to Orient Point, long-term threats from climate change — like flooding from heavy storms and damaged infrastructure from erosion — are very real. While the focus on the South Shore is largely on its dunes, the biggest threat on the North Shore is erosion of its bluffs.

The most recent example is damage done to a 97-foot-high bluff in Port Jefferson Village. Despite a $10 million village project designed to stop that, a recent series of strong storms, heavy winds and waves carved two 70-foot-long gashes into the bluff. The damage threatens a catering hall and tennis courts at the village-owned country club atop the bluff, whose potential collapse could cause the facilities to tumble into Long Island Sound. The village is seeking a $3.75 million federal emergency grant to help recoup the cost of the loan for the half-done bluff preservation project.

As most North Shore officials have found, this particular erosion problem isn’t easily solved. The towering bluffs, part of the region's iconic beauty, especially in Suffolk, can crumble when heavy rains wash the wet sand away — especially if the bluff isn’t heavily covered with vegetation to prevent its deterioration. Waves crashing at the base of the bluff can also undermine its stability, even if rocks are placed or a sea wall has been built to defend its footing. Damage from the pounding waves will likely worsen in the future.

Preparation is vital. Government officials must take steps to improve drainage to reduce water runoff from storms that aggravate North Shore erosion. Current drainage infrastructure is woefully aged or inadequate. More sewers would help. Local officials and some homeowners can take significant steps by building bluff slopes that are graded and terraced, with plenty of vegetation to help slow erosion.

As on the South Shore, overall policies to reduce the erosion toll must be examined. Federal flood insurance — which has helped subsidize questionable rebuilding of vulnerable low-lying properties on the South Shore — generally isn’t available in the same way to those living on North Shore bluffs. But low-lying North Shore communities facing long-term impacts of rising sea levels must make strategic plans, too, as the City of Glen Cove is doing, that can include raising or moving existing buildings.

Local officials should encourage owners of homes and properties threatened by crumbling bluffs to seek state-sponsored “managed retreat” buyouts, rather than spend more on a shaky bet that a truly endangered place can be saved. Long Island’s beauty and much of its economy are tied to its scenic waterfront. But it can only remain an attractive — and livable — place if we start taking action now.

MEMBERS OF THE EDITORIAL BOARD are experienced journalists who offer reasoned opinions, based on facts, to encourage informed debate about the issues facing our community.

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