Long Island ocean front homeowners are building bulk heads and jetties to stop violent storm surges from wiping out their property. But environmentalist said that’s going to have a disastrous effect.
McAllister, who runs the nonprofit , is leading an offensive against "shorefront hardening," the building of artificial barriers against rising waters.
While intended to keep water from overtaking beachfront homes, the man-made walls actually speed up the erosion of the beach in front of them, McAllister said.
“It may take 10 or 20 years, but if we encapsulate our creeks, bays and oceanfronts, we are going to see a loss of our shorelines that are vital for recreation, property values and fish and wildlife," he said.
“Should some of these homes be sacrificed in the interest of preserving natural shorelines? I would argue, yes."
It's a problem that's caught the attention of Southampton Town Trustees, which recently commissioned a $10,000 study by shoreline expert Robert Young. That report also concluded that these structures will reduce the size of beaches.
The report also notes that other states including North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas have already banned construction of these structures.
Southampton Board of Trustees President Eric Shultz said the town is using Young's study to draw an official policy against shore hardening.
Decades of Destruction
What drives local homeowners to install things like bulkheads is simple: Long Island's East End has been battered by violent storms for decades. It's a matter of protecting their investments.
Most point to the great that destroying everything in its path and creating Shinnecock Bay. And nearly 54 years after that, a nor’easter hit West Hampton Dunes with such force that 150 houses were swept into the Atlantic Ocean.
Most recently,, while not as expected, did , causing fear among homeowners, some of whom arrived home to find flooded backyards. Southampton was also forced to
Protecting the palaces
While building shore hardening structures such as bulk heads and jetties may make sense in the wake of all that damage, McAllister said shorelines only need natural plantings and extra sand for protection.
“Natural shorelines can act as a shock absorber during storm surges,” said McAllister, “and soak it up like a sponge.”
But owners of these multimillion-dollar homes are ignorant to these options and head straight for shore hardening instead.
In Southampton town, any shore hardening structure must get the go-ahead from a six-member . And it’s been 20 years since one was approved, said trustee Ed Warner.
However, some people just skip the approvals process, Werner said, because they are fed up with watching the ocean creep ever closer to their estates.
And McAllister's argument fell on deaf ears with at least eight homeowners in Southampton who requested permission last month to erect shore-hardening structures, Warner said.
One homeowner, he said, lost 20-feet of bluff after natural plantings failed.
Schultz added that the uptick in shore hardening requests has a lot to do with old bulkheads approved in the 1920s and 1930s that are starting to crumble.
Aram Terchunian, of First Coastal Corp., a Westhampton-based business that provides professional coastal management services, said shore hardening is sometimes the only option.
“The preferred method is to pump in millions of yards of clean sand, but you can’t always do that. In the meantime, you have to protect the property,” he said. “You have to stop the bleeding before you operate.”
But McAllister said some homeowners and government officials should start asking the hardest question of all.
“Should some of these homes be sacrificed in the interest of preserving natural shorelines? I would argue, yes," he said.
"We won’t have any beaches or visitors left.”