New York Gov. Kathy Hochul’s stop on Long Island following three intense winter storms to talk about erosion and sea level rise was welcome but in the end just more of the same thing we have heard for years. As part of her new Resilient and Ready program, the governor promised a couple million dollars to help pay to protect a beach pavilion and playground in Babylon and a bit more for other similar projects.
Another step Ms. Hochul announced was updated coastal erosion maps to make them more user-accessible. Separately, her annual budget proposal includes $250 million for storm-proofing mostly low-income areas. If the money makes it past negotiations with Albany, it would be a surprise. And, finally, she again called on the United States Army Corps of Engineers to increase its funding for L.I. projects. This is the same Army Corps that is placing an extremely expensive Band-Aid on part of the Montauk shoreline — a project actually designed from the start to wash away.
Even in the way Ms. Hochul’s new program is named we see old ideas being recycled — resiliency implies bounceback, and this sends the wrong message when all attention must instead be focused on retreat.
Brookhaven Town Supervisor Daniel J. Panico had it right when he said the old approach should be abandoned: “We must address this issue as a region and must end the seemingly endless cycle of emergency scrambling and instead embark on a regional plan, because the frequency and ferocity of these storms have exposed the fact that the current approach may be untenable.”
Close observers of the waterfront know that the problem is not on the beaches — it is the houses and other man-made structures just behind them. Left to its own perambulations, the shoreline would shift this way and that, unfortunately claiming more land each year thanks to storms, erosion, and the rising sea, but not houses, if they could be eliminated or moved away. Federal scientists say the average water level will go up by 10 to 12 inches in the Northeast U.S. by 2050.
To get a sense of how this change has accelerated, consider that it took the preceding 100 years (1920-2020) for an equal rise to take place. Money for the Montauk downtown beach replenishment effort will run out in 2053. By then the problem with saltwater inundation will be everywhere. A few dollars for a Babylon playground may have given the impression that something is being done, but was not much more than a photo-op.