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Urge Adoption of Coastal Resiliency Plan

Thu, 05/19/2022 - 09:49
Sand being replenished on the downtown Montauk beach this week, as part of an annual project whose costs are shared by East Hampton Town and Suffolk County.
Jane Bimson

An environmental analyst in the East Hampton Town Natural Resources Department and the president of Concerned Citizens of Montauk urged the town on Tuesday to adopt the Coastal Assessment and Resiliency Plan, released in draft form three weeks ago. 

The draft plan, known as CARP, offers a raft of chilling conclusions about a future of climate change-induced sea level rise, coastal erosion, and extreme weather, and recommends prompt planning in order to solicit grant funding and achieve a readiness to take timely action.

"It's important to start now," said Laura Tooman of C.C.O.M., who is co-chairwoman of the CARP planning committee, as "the threats are real." She spoke of outreach to the hamlet's citizens advisory committees and other opportunities for the community to be involved in the process and reach a consensus. 

Among the plan's recommendations are a managed retreat from the shoreline in downtown Montauk, where oceanfront motels and resorts are particularly vulnerable. 

Before the presentation, however, the executive director of the Montauk Chamber of Commerce came out against the plan. "Recommending managed retreat for downtown is what is causing us to vote no," Jen Fowkes told the board. More in-depth study as to what that action would look like, its economic impact, and its financial feasibility is needed, she said. 

The study that resulted in the plan began with an assessment of "hotspots" in the town at greatest risk from storms and sea level rise, Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc said.

CARP, said Samantha Klein of the Natural Resources Department, is "a tool to guide us in decision making . . . to reduce vulnerability and adapt to a changing climate." 

Different strategies would be implemented in different areas to reduce risks to natural and recreational resources, property damage, and disruption to essential services, transportation, and "lifeline services" such as power and communications, water, and wastewater treatment. She and Ms. Tooman further defined coastal resilience as an ability to rebound quickly after a storm, maintain a sustainable and economically viable community, maintain essential functions, prevent or minimize storm-related damage, and ensure public safety.  

In addition to downtown Montauk, the plan's focus areas in the easternmost hamlet are the harbor, the Culloden neighborhood, Ditch Plain, and the low-lying Fort Pond/Industrial Road area. Other focus areas are Gerard Drive and Louse Point in Springs, Cranberry Hole Road and Lazy Point in Amagansett, Wainscott, and East Hampton Village. 

The draft predicts the town will be "a series of islands with permanent submergence of low-lying areas as early as 2070" absent proactive measures to mitigate climate change. Ms. Klein spoke of "parallel approaches of mitigation and adaptation the town can pursue to delay the outcome and prepare for it." An example of the former is reducing greenhouse gas emissions and reliance on fossil fuels, she said. 

To meet the challenges facing the town, other planning initiatives and changes should include review of building regulations and shoreline setbacks with a program of beach, dune, and bluff restoration, and erosion control districts. The town should also begin planning for emergency response and public works and physical projects such as roadway elevation and flood mitigation measures, natural and nature-based features projects, renewable energy infrastructure and power distribution updates, and beach nourishment as a temporary, interim measure. Funding mechanisms must also be identified. 

Many of these are multiyear, multiphase projects. "Consensus building will be project-based," Ms. Klein said. "We want to make sure we have buy-in from residents." 

It cannot be "just a top-down plan," Ms. Tooman said, but rather "a plan the community wants." 

Setting up a committee of relevant and impacted stakeholders and the identification of methods for property acquisition or relocation of high-risk properties could be a prelude to the formation of a managed retreat overlay zone, they said. A voluntary, incentivized buyout program, a transfer of development rights program, and tax credits could be effective mechanisms for retreat. 

The plan also recommends review and modification of emergency response plans, including an emergency notification system to residents, public outreach and education, and flood response equipment and training. 

This will be "a complex and continuous process," Ms. Klein said, "so we want to start immediately. I'm excited and eager to enter the next phase." 

Mr. Van Scoyoc noted that he was in his first year on the town board when Superstorm Sandy struck in October 2012. "I've really seen the awareness of what we're facing change within the community significantly over the last 10 years," he said. "We're still in the beginning of the journey, if you really want to acknowledge it." 

But residents, environmental organizations, and business interests actively participated in the townwide hamlet studies, he said. "To see the level of engagement increase over time is encouraging. I'm glad we're at this point, and look forward to adopting a plan and making ourselves eligible for additional grant funding so we can start implementing many things the plan talks about."


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