In The Same Boat - 27 East


Southampton Press / Opinion / Letters / 1946165

In The Same Boat

Thank you to all who participated and attended your recent Express Sessions event at Gurney’s regarding the future of Montauk, and its conclusions that sea level rise will likely mean inundation of much of downtown. It was an extremely valuable, well-attended exercise marked by frank discussions of the reality of climate change. Well done.

The panel treated attending community members to the spectrum of viewpoints regarding the sustainability of Montauk in its present form and location. The import should not be lost by other town residents who live on or close to the beaches.

That said, it’s important to understand the debate that developed at either end of your dais — and I’m sure the seating chart was carefully made.

At one end, and in the majority, were those who believe that coastal retreat is the only sensible solution, inasmuch that beach replenishment is a bottomless well filled with our money. At the other end was an erudite and accomplished coastal geologist who acknowledged the inevitability of coastal change and rising sea levels, but pointed out the relative viability of sand replenishment plans accomplished farther west in Suffolk and Nassau counties, and on into Brooklyn, specifically Coney Island, where I grew up.

Unfortunately the western end of the Long Island peninsula, and Coney Island itself, is not analogous to our town, as a look at a nautical chart of the New York Bight clearly shows. We have no southwesterly barrier, such as New Jersey and its wetlands, nor have we the discharge of the Hudson River, or the southern offshore Rockaways barrier.

We live on an unprotected finger into the Atlantic and must all acknowledge that, given climate perturbations, whatever the cause, the next big storm is not a matter of “if,” only of “when.”

The difficult part of the solution, well pointed out by the dialogue between Aram Terchunian, the noted geologist, and Kevin McAllister of Defend H2O and Councilman David Lys, is what to do about coastal facilities — beachfront hotels, businesses and homes.

The core problem is coming up with the value proposition that will make coastal retreat, the only sensible solution over time, possible. Our Constitution protects property rights, and a fiat solution of prohibition of development without compensation is no more the answer than turning our tax dollars into sand. Additionally, using Community Preservation Fund money is dicey, even if possible.

The ultimate question is how much a beachfront or low-lying structure or establishment is worth, given its clearly inevitable future destruction? That number has nothing to do with the amount invested, or the time it has been held.

Finally, we need to understand an old mariner’s dictum: “We’re all in the same boat.”

Captain Ira M. Barocas (Ret.)