Shared from the 9/5/2019 Southampton Press - Eastern Edition eEdition


Time To Get Real


Karl Grossman,a resident of Noyac, is a journalism educator, author and awardwinning journalist who has written “Suffolk Closeup,” focusing on local and regional issues, for nearly 50 years. His email address is

Climate change is happening. As a result of sea level rise caused by global warming, lowland coastal portions of Long Island will be impacted.

This area has an extremely mixed — indeed, a contradictory — record, one that continues, when it comes to its shoreline. There has been both folly on the coast and also people pressing for understanding of coastal dynamics.

The most recent folly has occurred in Montauk: the placement by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers of 14,200 sandbags, each 1.7 tons, along Montauk’s shore in 2015, at a cost of $8.9 million. Storms have since hit the 3,100-foot-long stretch of sandbags hard, and many had to be re-buried.

A year before, in 2014, the Suffolk County Legislature passed, and County Executive Steve Bellone signed, a “cost-sharing” measure providing that the Town of East Hampton pay half the cost of “maintenance” of the sandbags, and Suffolk County pay the other half. The vote was 17-1, with only Legislator Al Krupski of Cutchogue voting no.

Mr. Krupski predicted the cost of “maintenance” of the Montauk sandbags would run $1 million a year. He was prescient. On this July 16, the County Legislature passed a bill providing $502,000 in payment for its share of “maintenance” over the past year, and Mr. Bellone signed it.

This means that you, as a Suffolk County taxpayer, are shelling out your money for “maintenance” of the Montauk sandbags — and there’ll be years of “maintenance.”

“I am very familiar with the processes of coastal erosion and the dynamics of the shoreline,” said Mr. Krupski in a 2014 letter to fellow legislators. For 20 years, he was a member — and for 14 years, president — of the Southold Town Board of Trustees, which oversees the shores and adjoining waters of Southold Town. “I believe Suffolk County should not endorse a project that hardens the shoreline. This is a project that, one, is sure to fail and cause accelerated erosion to adjacent properties, and, two, puts the maintenance on the shoulders of the entire county.”

It was not just Mr. Krupski seeking to stop the folly. There were demonstrations and civil disobedience on the beach, with protesters arrested trying to stop bulldozers installing sandbags. There was a lawsuit, with the Sag Harbor-based organization Defend H20 as key plaintiff.

Another example of this area’s mixed, contradictory shoreline record is happening in Smithtown. The town is now considering changes in its coastal management plan, including restrictions on development in areas likely to be affected by sea level rise. The changes would require that sea level change be considered when siting waterfront projects.

But at the same time, the Village of Nissequogue, which is within the Town of Smithtown, is seeking what Kevin McAllister, H20 founding president, describes as “an easing of restrictions for people seeking to build sea walls. The village trustees are no longer requiring environmental review and have eliminated any reference to the structures having an adverse impact on beaches. The village’s plan is in contradiction to the town’s efforts.” He testified against the proposed revisions at a recent public hearing in Nissequoque.

I think back to the 1960s and Smithtown’s supervisor, John V.N. Klein, when he was also chairman of the then-Suffolk County Board of Supervisors, challenging the Army Corps’ scheme to place groins — jetties of rocks extending out into the sea — along the oceanfront off Dune Road in Westhampton.

Mr. Klein understood that, with groins, it was a case of “robbing Peter to pay Paul.” They would catch sand moving in the ocean’s westward “littoral drift” along Long Island’s south shore and broaden the beaches where they were placed, but at the same time deprive the shoreline to the west of sand. His understanding has been fully confirmed since then by experts in the relatively new science of coastal geology.

Mr. Klein faced intense opposition from beach house owners. As a reporter for the daily Long Island Press, I covered the scene as beach house owners paraded before the board demanding groins be built.

The groins, indeed, caused devastation. Owners of beach houses on the west, many battered, some lost, brought a lawsuit against the Army Corps, the state and Suffolk County. There was a settlement under which $80 million — of our tax dollars — is being spent to dump sand over a 30-year period along a coastline caused to erode by the placement of the 15 groins.

Now, especially with climate change and sea level rise, we must get real about the coast — and how to deal with climate change.

More next week.

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