The Nation’s Shoreline Circa 2100

Scientists now say the oceans are rising faster today than at any other point in the past 2,800 years

The year 2100 might seem a long way off, but for East Hampton Town and much of the rest of the world’s coastal communities, it is a date that should be of genuine concern. According to a new study released on Monday, oceans could rise by as much as four feet by the end of the century.

Sea level rise is understood to be a result of global-warming emissions, or human-caused climate change. Scientists now say the oceans are rising faster today than at any other point in the past 2,800 years. Tidal flooding is becoming routine here, with overwashes at such places as Gerard Drive in Springs and Napeague occurring several times a year instead of once every couple of years. Similar inundations are being seen from Miami to Maine. 

In one example cited in recent research, Annapolis, Md., experienced 32 flooded days between 1955 and 1964; in the 10-year period that ended in 2014, the flooded days were 394. Clearly, the water is coming even if one disputes the underlying cause, as some climate change deniers are sure to do.

Policy responses must be made on both the local and regional level. East Hampton Town is preparing a review of its existing laws on erosion and flood-control structures after its long-fought Local Waterfront Revitalization Plan was summarily discarded in the lead-up to the downtown Montauk sandbag seawall.

Because New York State officials abetted Town Hall and the Army Corps of Engineers in disregarding the rules, which allowed sandbags on the Montauk beach only as a temporary, removable measure of no more than nine months’ duration, there is reason to worry that they would be willing to bend the law after the next disaster. Pronouncements and studies from Albany have not produced much in the way of hope either.

Looking to 2100, it is clear that pushing a new national agency committed to coastal resiliency is the only prudent course. The fact that this would mean giving up some degree of local control might raise objections, but considering beaches and productive marine ecosystems as a matter of right for all Americans, not just waterfront property owners, is more important.

The time to start planning for East Hampton’s next century is now. Would that it be a model for other places facing similar challenges.