Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Should We Stop Our Shifting Sands?

April 1, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

shifting sands 1

Beaches are in a constant state of flux. The sands shift with the tides, slowly morphing the coastline. Beach goers flock to beaches that mere months earlier didn’t have much sand; there are more changes as months turn into years.

Long Island’s unique geologic composition of shifting and churning sand coastlines requires boaters to stay informed about ever-changing sand bars and underwater elevation fluctuations. Local, regional, state, and federal governments work to keep channels navigable and beaches replenished, but are time-consuming and costly efforts to curb erosion ultimately a losing battle?

On paper, it seems the benefits of staving off the waves makes economic sense, as Long Island’s residential and recreational coastal areas are revenue generators. For instance, millions of people annually enjoy the beaches of Jones Beach State Park and Robert Moses State Park, two of the most popular parks within the varied New York State Parks system. With attendance comes entrance fees and concessionaires who pay to be near the beach. Thus, the constant forces of erosion cannot be taken lightly — income disappears if the beaches vanish!

shifting sands 2Costly maintenance of existing coastline may only be temporary in the wake of weather events. Robert Moses State Park experienced significant damage in 2012 from Superstorm Sandy. The repair effort to the state’s third most popular park was no small task. New York announced that the federal government gave $23 million towards replenishing 600,000 cubic yards of sand on the beach, enhancing of dunes, restoring vegetation, dredging the State Boat Channel, and repairing the parkway providing vehicular access to the barrier beach.

While some argue that Sandy was a rare occurrence, the battle against erosion is fought on a continual basis. Relatively smaller storms like nor’easters and blizzards can wreak havoc on Long Island’s fragile coast, resulting in flooding and structural collapse as the sands holding up homes become unstable.  And nature unleashes the brunt of regional erosional forces on the south shore, especially Fire Island, daily. According to Seth Forman and Dr. Lee Koppelman’s The Fire Island National Seashore – A History: “More than 8,000 waves pound the Fire Island beaches every day, with the force reaching 2,000 pounds per square foot. This relentless pounding makes the barriers extremely unstable, subject to drastic alteration…”

The unyielding force of nature, paired with man’s inclination for building to the edges of the earth, worsen our regional erosion woes. Sandy areas across Nassau and Suffolk counties, from the shoreline bluffs on the north to the Montauk Lighthouse, need constant replenishment. In Montauk, erosion proves a threat to the livelihood that drives its commerce — tourism. Yet the solution isn’t as easy to reach as one would think. In a piece entitled The Coastline is Retreating. Should the Montauk Lighthouse Stand Its Ground?  written for the New York Times in 2006 by Cornelia Dean, the essay sums up the struggle policymakers have in addressing the expensive and touchy issue of erosion on Long Island: “…the Montauk Lighthouse is a good example of a phenomenon that is all too common on the coast: armoring a building or road or other infrastructure in one place at the cost of environmental damage someplace else.”

Do we continue, decade after decade, to replace sands depleted during storms and bad winters, or do we adapt our coasts? Should taxpayers fund costly erosion projects knowing they’ll likely be asked to do so again and again? Forman and Koppelman came to a foreboding conclusion: “Erosion, the primary natural force that shapes and moves barrier beaches, will always win. Since man first inhabited Long Island and navigated its surrounding waters, the coasts were always changing thanks to the shifting sands.”

If changes to our shores are inevitable, do we continue the costly fight for the sake of stability and tradition or let nature run its course?

Sunken Meadow Beach April 12 2015 a

By Richard Murdocco


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