We’ll believe it when we see it. East Hampton Town officials say they are getting tough on so-called temporary measures to save properties from erosion. In a discussion this week, the town board considered ways to ensure that emergency sandbags get removed once the emergency is over, something that has been on the books for ages, but never enforced.
Under existing local regulations, sandbags may be permitted for six months in an emergency, with a single, three-month extension. A number of houses along the town’s bayfront have had sandbag seawalls in place for years past the on-paper nine-month maximum, yet the town itself is the single biggest violator. The thousands of feet of sandbags along the downtown Montauk oceanfront were installed in the aftermath of 2012’s Hurricanes Irene and Sandy and remain there to this day — with town and county taxpayers covering the massive yearly cost of keeping them covered with sand. Dirt Bag Beach, locals call it, a moniker that could also apply to the officials who ultimately decided to act as if their own rules did not apply to them. But without the sand trucked in, there would be no beach, that is unless a plan is put in place to eliminate the motels and few private residences that the bags are supposed to save and a natural-style protective duneline is restored.
Erosion problems are not new. Houses have been tipping into the Atlantic Ocean occasionally — and sometimes catastrophically — for decades. Along Dune Road in Westhampton, more than 150 substantial houses were swept away in the 1938 Hurricane. Today, in portions of Amagansett and Montauk, a similar number are at risk due to the relentless threat of sea level rise. If the town is really going to be successful in dealing with erosion, it must develop a coherent two-pronged plan for removal of seawalls and buying out waterfront properties and then stick to it.
Ordering the sandbags but then doing nothing else will not meet the challenge alone.