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Battered South Shore Communities Call For Dunes, But Who Pays?

Officials from Nassau and Suffolk say structurally sound dunes along the South Shore are a must to keep mainland Long Island safe from other Sandy-like storms.

Long Island’s South Shore barrier islands bore the brunt of Hurricane Sandy’s devastating storm surge and winds causing significant damage and in some areas decades’ worth of erosion in just a few days.

Now, officials from across the region are warning that if the barrier islands are not repaired soon, flooding during the next storm could be worse and have a greater impact on mainland South Shore communities.

“If by the next storm we don’t have dunes and the ocean just has its way, it will come up over the barrier beaches and go into the bay,” said John Cochrane, an Islip Town Councilman. “That’s millions and millions of gallons that the bay will assume and be pushed up over the mainland.”

Cochrane said that in order to protect the mainland communities, Fire Island’s 40-year-old dunes that were flattened in many areas during Sandy, need to be back in working order, and fast.

“Fire Island, and all of the barrier islands, function as a garage door—you want that big door to work so it can protect your car,” he said. “Fire Island is the mainland’s garage door and is the protection for the south shore of Long Island—it’s the initial line of defense for the mainland against storms.”

Dune Plans in Long Beach

In Long Beach, repairs to the beaches are needed not only to shore up protection for residents in Nassau County’s many bayfront communities, but also to protect the thousands living in the city working to recover from Sandy.

Morris Kramer, long-time advocate of a dune project on Long Beach, is again urging officials to move forward and build a dune system to protect the barrier island.

“Unless they do something to build dunes and replenish Long Beach, there is no sense in rebuilding the city,” said Kramer, who has been advocating for the dunes since 1986. “The storms are going to keep coming and coming and continue to do incredible damage.”

On Dec. 4, the Long Beach City Council voted to revisit a dune project that was previously rejected. Six years ago, the United States Army Corps of Engineers recommended that Long Beach build 25-foot dunes to help protect its 35,000 residents.

The proposal, known as The Long Beach Island Storm Damage Reduction Project, would have cost an estimated $98 million and stretched along the island’s six-mile shoreline.

The Long Beach City Council voted against it, some said because the project would have compromised ocean views, others, like surfers, worried most about waves.

Today, Sandy-related damage estimates in Long Beach are $200 million.

While Long Beach suffered catastrophic damage in part because of a lack of dune system, areas of Westhampton were able to better weather Sandy.

“We had zero infrastructure damage,” Aram Terchunian, who is a coastal geologist with First Coastal Corporation in Westhampton Beach, said of the aftermath of the late October storm.

He said the dunes suffered a handful of over-washes and a limited amount of sand was pushed onto roadways. But ultimately the dunes did their job in protecting the community.

“In 48 hours, we were ready to go,” Terchunian said.

He believes the reason why Westhampton had almost no damage from Sandy was because the community took the Army Corps of Engineers up on its proposal to build dunes years earlier.

In 1996, four years after the 1992 Nor’easter caused severe damage to 190 homes and $25 million in flood insurance claims, the Army Corps of Engineers, New York State and Suffolk County began to build dunes on Westhampton Beach. The coastal protection project was completed in 1999.

“I don’t even think there was a broken window,” Terchunian said of Westhampton following Sandy. “The Army Corps of Engineers had a similar project for Long Beach that was locked, loaded and ready to fire in 2006.”

While many view beach replenishment as vital in protecting Long Island, others also feel simply replacing the sand alone is not enough.

Kevin McAllister, a coastal biologist, says beach-and-dune restoration is a necessity to keep area beaches healthy. But, he also sees it as a Band-Aid that will only buy a few years before having to spend more money to protect the homes being jeopardized by encroaching tides.

“We have to be ready to abandon and walk away. If we walk away—I know its not an easy pill to swallow—let’s say on Fire Island, the loss of those homes will let nature take its course and there will always be a barrier island,” he said. “But if we start to fortify it and try to stay, all of the ecological benefits from a barrier island for the mainland will be lost.”

Funding For Repairs

While there is agreement that repairs to the barrier islands are needed, what remains unclear is how to cover the cost. Many local governments are struggling to keep tax hikes to a minimum while providing necessary services to local residents.

During a recent press conference, Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray called on state and federal agencies to help get the plan moving for Long Beach Island. 

Currently, the town is using their own construction equipment to pump sand from the Jones Beach Inlet to repair the area’s badly eroded beaches.

In Long Beach, City Council President Len Torres, said before Sandy left the city with $200 million in damages, its budget was already suffering with a $10 million deficit.

Islip Town officials, who recently approved a 28 percent tax increase to close a budget shortfall, said they are also seeking funding from the state and federal government to help pay for Fire Island’s dune and beach repair.

“We are aggressively going after funding from FEMA and the state,” Cochrane said.

He added that the town would not only receive money from the state and federal levels, but also from its taxpayers within Fire Island’s “erosion districts.”

Islip’s erosion districts, set up after the “Perfect Storm” of 1991, all pay a tax each year strictly set aside for scrapping beaches and building up dunes.

Cochrane said that these districts include Corneille EstatesLonelyvilleFair HarborAtlantiqueDunewoodSeaview and Kismet, which have coffers ranging from $71,000 to $495,000. 

“I’ve heard everything from $20 million to $100 million to rebuild the beaches and dunes, I don’t have a real handle for the Town of Islip on how much money it is actually going to take to rebuild to the right protection size,” Cochrane said. “But we will enhance the aid we expect from FEMA and the state with the erosion districts.”

As local governments work to get money from Albany and Washington, some money for repairs is beginning to flow.

Initial funding from New York, for example, is heading to communities such as Long Beach. But those dollars are earmarked for removal of debris and construction and demolition costs, not for beach replenishment and repairs.

This is leaving some in Long Beach feeling vulnerable with no coastal protection.

“On the street, people are nervous,” said Rich Hoffman, President of West End Neighbors Civic Association, a supporter of dunes for Long Beach. “All we need is a storm and we’ll be putting everything back out on the sidewalk. Right now we are sitting on the cliff of further damage. It’s imperative that we get the Corps in and protect ourselves fully.”

And what if the dunes aren’t built?

“If the city is not protected by dunes, there is really no sense in rebuilding,” Kramer said.

forward thinking December 21, 2012 at 01:21 PM
i can see asking for donations for the dunes - but to make me pay for someone elses hand picked lot which is by the way their choice is down right "entitlement" ... bty most of us pay more taxes per sq. ft. inland anyway...
Vito December 21, 2012 at 01:55 PM
So are you willing to pay more for the services you use and I don't? Should you be taxed for schools only when you have kids in those schools? I never take the LIE when I drive, so don't make me pay for it. How about social services, welfare, medicaid, medicare, parks, airports, roads...make the actual users pay for it not me! That seems like a great and well thought out plan.We could go on and on and in the process I am sure we could find many other areas where MY taxes go to support things YOU (and other like minded individuals) use but I don't. This is how a civilization like ours works.
S.M. December 21, 2012 at 01:56 PM
No new taxes...please! Enough already.
paul December 21, 2012 at 02:40 PM
wealthy hamptonites????? I guess you voted for the Obamanation of this country......
tm December 21, 2012 at 02:44 PM
that analogy simply doesnt work. Dune and natural resource replenishment benefits many, whereas a new roof benefits only me.
Raymond Collins December 21, 2012 at 02:48 PM
If we all have to pay the taxes, shouldn't we all be allowed to vote whether houses can be built in that area at all? It's obvious that if nature had it's way, the land it's built on wouldn't exist. These houses have been destroyed/flooded before, and will be in the future (within the year, from the sound of this article). Maybe it's time to just say "You cant put a house on this spot that we know it will be destroyed. Move a block away from the water."
Archie Bunker December 21, 2012 at 03:00 PM
Question -- What does salmon fisheries in Alaska have to do with Hurricane Sandy? Answer -- Everything according to our dis-functional Congress http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/senate-budget-hawks-target-bloat-60-4b-sandy-relief-bill-article-1.1223267
Chuck Schrader December 21, 2012 at 04:28 PM
Every year there is erosion from coastal storms , every year those who own property along the shore ask the state and federal gov't for funds to rebuild & replenish the beaches. I remember when the wind farm idea got shot down by the same communities that are now asking for help ( like they own the right to the ocean views). Personally I believe if the state or fed steps in to lend a hand and tax dollars, the windmill farms should be given a green light before the reconstruction of the dunes. That way at least everyone gets something for something, not just a few who get something for nothing.
Frank December 21, 2012 at 04:50 PM
NO WAY RICH! The cost of dunes should be borne by the State and Federal Government. You're asking a handful of citizens to protect a State (and Federal) Coastline? Bad enough people are saddled with the highest taxes in the Nation, the Sandy disaster, and the fiscal cliff.. now you want to rub salt into their torn flesh by having them bear the costs of dune construction? No way, no how.
Frank December 21, 2012 at 04:51 PM
@ TM. Well Said. Ask the poor slobs of East Rockaway whether they got the dough to protect bay park.
jasminetea December 21, 2012 at 06:30 PM
Shouldn't it come from Obama's 60.4 Billion Hurricane Sandy Aid bill.
Vito December 21, 2012 at 06:49 PM
For better or worse there were zoning laws that allowed these homes to be built. We don't get to vote on how our taxes get spent. Imagine how well that would work.
Lifeisgood December 21, 2012 at 07:44 PM
As the article said we need our barrier islands to protect the mainland. If we do nothing cause we dont want higher taxes and pay for the people living in a flood zone, then what. Merrick rd is the new ocean pkwy and the next major hurricane it floods up to the SS, then the people north of them say the same thing. Our govt took care of Louisiana, they also give billions a year to countries that dont even like us. How about they cut the funding to every other country and take care of their own backyard first. If anything is left then give it out, providing the world doesnt end by the end of the day. lol
catman December 22, 2012 at 05:57 AM
Do you go to the beach ? Because if you do then the beaches are just as much your responsibility as the people who live there.
Former Long Islander January 05, 2013 at 10:12 PM
Are non-residents still charged to use the beach at Long Beach? Enough said.
paul January 06, 2013 at 12:29 AM
Charged???? The beach is free...... Come one come all......
Argile January 06, 2013 at 12:48 AM
Ask the school districts to pay for it. The seem to have most of our money.
Dad of Three January 06, 2013 at 04:15 AM
Mr Schrader seems to know little about the actual opposition to the original LIPA wind farm proposal, when he blames South Shore communities. As one of the environmentalists actively opposing the original LIPA proposal, I can tell Mr Schrader, and others, that there was a big division among the environmental community. Those who cared ONLY about “green energy” favored the project, while those concerned about BOTH “green energy” as well as impacts upon wildlife, were opposed to the project as originally presented. LIPA, led by "good old boy" Richie Kessel and his environmentalist toady friends (many of whose organizations had accepted LIPA donations, tried to steamroller the proposal past USFWS and environmentalists concerned about wildlife. Audubon Long Island, and the NY State Audubon organizations, sent up red flags warning of insufficient attention to the impacts upon wildlife, and the lack of detailed and objective studies. Mr Kessel’s replacement, Kevin Law, realized the planning mistakes which had been made, and the proposal was buried pending reassessment. If Mr Schrader wants to oppose Federal aid for South Shore communities, he should at least do it for honest reasons.
vera charles January 06, 2013 at 04:20 AM
What the hell are you talking about robkoz? Unlike Town and village governments, residents of a school district vote on expenditures, and create the tax obligations to pay for them. Yes, you and I and every other resident of each district control what is spent by school districts. School districts don't have "most of our money," as you foolishly state, and they certainly can't pay for disaster relief. Get real, and wake up.
vera charles January 06, 2013 at 04:22 AM
For Lifeisgood, do you have any idea how little our Federal Government pays in foreign aid? If you want to talk about expenditures, take a look at the military budget. That's where the real bucks are.
Argile January 06, 2013 at 05:43 AM
It's called sarcasm. Learn it.
Goin' Commando January 06, 2013 at 05:59 AM
Vera, you may be unaware that "robkoz" is simply a troll making all manner of stupid comments. Anybody taking him seriously is wasting his or her time; just try to ignore his moronic rants.
Argile January 06, 2013 at 06:36 AM
Nice name slick. I've read some of your comments. They rank right up there with that troll called Hazel that lurks these forums.
Arguendo January 06, 2013 at 11:45 AM
Privatize the view and ambiance, but subsidize the risk and losses? Classic moral hazard. How about letting the land go back to nature -- where it is sure to go anyway.
Former Long Islander January 06, 2013 at 04:05 PM
Paul, I haven’t been to Long Beach in years but there were access stations along the boardwalk (when there was a boardwalk before Sandy) that charges non Long Beach residents $5 to use the beach. Now they want us to pay to rebuild their boardwalk so they can charge the rest of Nassau again. I would say their boardwalk and their dunes are Long Beach’s responsibility since they will not let the rest of Nassau use “their” beach without charging them.
Former Long Islander January 06, 2013 at 04:14 PM
You are correct sir, most of Long Island beaches are under private control, the Hamptons, Fire Island, Long Beach (charges non-resident), Atlantic Beach, etc. Others like Jones Beach and Gilgo Beach charge for use. Let those who own and use these pay the bill.
JPS March 07, 2013 at 03:09 PM
I don't have a problem with paying for services I don't use. I have a problem paying for private beaches I am not allowed to use. If they want our tax dollars they should open it up to the public for all of those to enjoy. As far as the school districts go, I know that is it not the case but I can see why people think they do when nearly 65% of my property tax bill goes to the schools. Yes, we vote on it but it’s not as clear cut as it seems. The schools threaten to cut programs, lay-offs, etc if the budgets are not passed. People panic and vote in favor. They need to control their expenditures and stop looking at the residents as a blank check book.
Helen March 08, 2013 at 01:39 AM
Touchy topic. I'd have to lean on the side of 'don't touch my taxes'. If they keep adding numbers to my tax bill I'm simply going to walk away from my home. I'll have no choice - I won't be able to afford it, and who the hell would buy my modest home with sky high taxes. Seriously? Private beaches/land should find their own solutions that don't include my name & address. And, finally, I agree that Mother Nature is screaming at us here. She's not telling, she's yelling. Listen to her.
marianne krause March 08, 2013 at 05:02 AM
@Vera with the state this country is in finacially even $1..00 to foreign aid is to much.. I'm with lifeisgood on that note.
smacw March 14, 2013 at 04:45 AM
Oh dear, ocean water might get in to the bays! This guy Cochrane is either a moron or he stands to profit, directly or indirectly. Better close all the 6 or so inlets on the South Shore that let ocean water in 2x daily then. Dunes are cheap, you just need a whole bunch of snow fence, deployed properly (IE dont expect to build a dune too close to the waters edge) and the cost should be shouldered privately or at least locally. In some cases, houses will have to be moved back or eliminated. Dune districts and sensible set backs need to be established locally, so that dunes have a chance to grow. Go to the wilderness parts of Fire Island, the dunes are 40-60 ft high just naturally, can withstand a pounding, but low pressure storm surges always find a way in to the bays as it did 48 hours before Sandy arrived and more recently on a lunar tide. The Rockaways and Long Beach flooded from the bay side before the ocean got past their non-existent dunes Lets start by getting rid of the biggest problem, jetties in East Hampton and Westhampton Beach and all the down stream problems they cause. If we are going to maintain inlets, establish permanent sand bypassing operations. We can certainly do things a lot better than we have been by working with Mother Nature rather than against, but were still staring in the North Atlantic and there are no guarantees. Big storms will still happen but recovery could be a bit easier and less costly.

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