As sea level rises, coastal erosion is a major problem on the East End.
Water front property owners have been battling with town trustees over their attempt to protect their property by building bulkheads or other hardened structures.
The structures usually result in significant loss of sand in front of the structure and also down stream along the shoreline, exposing neighbors’ beachfront and public beaches to severe erosion as well.
The authority of the trustees – based on a colonial era English law — has been challenged in the courts after disputes with homeowners.
In May 2012, a state judge ruled that the Southampton Town Trustees do not have the authority to regulate homeowners’ placement of structures on or under the ocean beach to protect their homes in the event of severe erosion during major storms, at least within village boundaries.
Again in February 2014, as reported in the Southampton Press, a New York State Justice ruled against the Trustees, first ordering them to turn over their books to the town — an order that was refused — and then declaring that their authority to regulate constructionactivity along the oceanfront did not extend into the incorporated villages, asthe Trustees have claimed.
And a group of homeowners along Southampton town’s oceanfront in Water Mill, Bridgehampton and Sagaponack, combined to fund a multi-million dollar beach replenishment project in 2013 after severe loss of beach sand washed out dunesand threatened homes.
Marine biologist Douglas Hardy has been studying the devastating effects of hardened structures on Southold town’s coast line on the north fork of Long Island — effects like severe erosion and reduced coastal resilience in the era of climate change.
Hardy wrote a paper The Starvation of Southold Beaches for the Conservation Advisory Council to The Southold Town Trustees.
Hardy identifies the problem and considers the legal aspects of fixing it as property owners battle with local government. He notes in the paper that as sea level rises and storms become more extreme, storm surges will overwhelm and undermine hardened structures — and those structures will also magnify storm surge damage to adjacent beaches. He proposes ways to encourage homeowners to plan for sea level rise in a way that better protects coastal resilience.
The paper was submitted in January at a town board meeting, but was not enthusiastically received, according to EastEndBeacon.com, a news blog.
Sustainable East End's Francesca Rheannon talked with Doug Hardy last week.