East Hampton Embraces Understanding of Rising Seas

How will rising seas due to climate change impact us?

That’s a question that coastal communities have been asking all over the world of late, and it’s a conversation that eastern Long Island municipalities are just beginning to join.

East Hampton Town, which was awarded a $250,000 New York State grant in late 2014 to put together a Coastal Assessment and Resiliency Plan, is now in the thick of exploring the impact of rising sea levels on its coastline.

The town’s Coastal Resiliency Project Advisory Committee gave an overview of what will happen to its if nothing is done to prepare for sea level rise at their first public informational meeting May 16.

“We showed how bad it can get if we do nothing,” said the town’s consultant, Dr. Sam Merrill of GEI Consultants, Inc. “In the next meeting, we will talk about what what the possibilities are. It requires an attitude of exploration and openness to possibility. We don’t do anything based on fear. We work with the best available science and options.”

The next meeting will be held on July 20, though the place and time have not yet been finalized.

“I think people should bring an interest in learning what our options are,” said Dr. Merrill. “There’s a sense of overwhelm and powerlessness. Inundation maps just show you how wet you’re going to get. That can turn off the part of the brain that might create options for yourself.”

The “No Action” models unveiled at the May 16 session are based on the New York Department of Environmental Conservation’s recently adopted projections of potential sea level rise.

The DEC’s projection for ‘medium’ sea level rise shows a .6 foot rise in seas by 2030, a 1.3-foot rise by 2050, a 2.5-foot rise by 2080 and a 2.8-foot rise by 2100.

The DEC’s figures for a ‘high’ sea level rise put the rise at 1 foot by 2030, 2.5 feet by 2050, 4.8 feet by 2080 and 6 feet by 2100.

These projections, along with East Hampton tax assessment records, were used by the CARP team to determine the value of the property at risk over the course of the 21st Century.

According to the findings, the bay side of East Hampton, including Northwest Harbor, Accabonac Harbor, and Lake Montauk, is at the greatest risk of inundation from gradual sea level rise, while the ocean side of the town, with more impact from waves, is more vulnerable to damage from surging waters during storms.

The modeling puts the pricy real estate in East Hampton Village and Napeague at the greatest risk in terms of dollar value of damage from storm surge.

The study also concludes that many of the town’s critical facilities, like commercial fishing docks, electric substations, and the Montauk Airport and railroad station are vulnerable to storm surge now and to inundation by rising seas over time.

“There are several decades to adapt these facilities, but if adaptation action is not taken, they can be expected to be underwater at high tide every day,” according to the report.

The PowerPoint accompanying the May 16 session shows in-depth information on the land inundated at the medium level of sea level rise of 1.3 feet by 2050.

Under that scenario, much of the peninsula at Gerard Drive at the entrance to Accabonac Harbor and many low-lying areas around Accabonac Harbor would be inundated, as would Lazy Point and much of the area surrounding Napeague Harbor. Sammy’s Beach in Northwest, on the west side of Three Mile Harbor, would also be inundated, along with areas surrounding Lake Montauk.

Dr. Merrill said there are three basic methods of preparing coastlines for climate change, but the CARP study has not yet recommended which methods would be ideal in East Hampton.

The first is to fortify the shoreline through sandbagging and other hard structures, a controversial solution in a town where many opposed the recent sandbagging of the ocean beaches in front of downtown Montauk’s hotel row.

The second is modification of the impact of water, through floodproofing or elevating buildings that are vulnerable to inundation.

The third, said Dr. Merrill, is to “modify the presence of the vulnerability,” which essentially involves moving buildings out of the floodplain.

“We’ll crank the models in the fall and see what combinations of actions have more bang for the buck,” he said, adding that building code changes will also be examined throughout the CARP process.

At the July 20 meeting Dr. Merrill hopes members of the public will come with a mindset of education and exploration, as the CARP team familiarizes the community with practical solutions to rising seas.

“A lot of people are not familiar with the difference between wet and dry floodproofing, or with the idea of constructed wetlands. There are other activities right along the beach that are not conventional hardening but can attenuate storm surge,” he said. “Those are things we want to explain. We want everyone to have a common vernacular.”

More information is online here

Beth Young

Beth Young

Beth Young built her first boat out of driftwood tied together with phragmites behind her family’s apartment above the old Mill Creek Inn in Southold. Nowadays, she spends most of her time kayaking, learning about shellfish, writing newspaper stories, trying to sail a Sunfish, and watching the way the bay changes from day to day. You can send her a message at [email protected]

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