Editorial: With each storm, we lose a little more on the North Fork

Last week’s snowstorm came with strong north winds that exposed some parts of the North Fork to punishing flooding. Southold’s hardest hit locations were Hashamomuck Cove and Town Beach on Long Island Sound. 

There, north-facing homes were pummeled by the winds. Bulkheads were ripped apart, and a beach shack — complete with a toilet, solar hot water shower and electricity — that had survived on the site since the 1920s was destroyed.

A look at the map of Southold shows that Hashamomuck Pond runs from Peconic Bay on the south nearly to County Route 48 on the north. That strip of county-owned road and Town Beach are what holds together two large sections of the town. During the flooding from last week’s blizzard, Route 48 washed over, forcing the police to close the road.

The landmass between Sound and bay at Hashamomuck is so narrow that in May 1777 it was the site of a guerrilla raid by American forces who rowed over from Connecticut, portaged their boats across the beach to the pond, and then out into the bay. Later on the morning of May 23, this force raided a British encampment at Sag Harbor. They returned to Connecticut by the same route.

Today, longtime residents of the area say that, years ago, there were 100 to 150 feet of beach in front of the Sound-facing homes there. Parts of that beach are all but gone even at a normal high tide now, and routine high tides are bringing flooding to other parts of the town that haven’t been affected in the past. Erosion is an ever-present threat in many places in Southold.

Hashamomuck is one of those places — and there are many all across the region — where homes cling to the earth as the ground has changed all around them. Each major storm brings with it the threat of more destruction, and more public expense.

At many such places — think of the barrier beach in Westhampton — the sea has destroyed homes during storms and even cut through the barrier beach. But each time it happens, roads, beaches and homes are rebuilt, with a price tag in the tens of millions of dollars, and we start all over again. The Village of Westhampton Dunes was created after one storm ripped open the barrier beach. Dozens of expensive homes now sit on a replenished beach. Will another storm take them away again? What happens then?

An Army Corps of Engineers plan for Hashamomuck, with costs reaching nearly $18 million, has been proposed. It would bolster the Hashamomuck area and protect existing homes. But the project cannot move forward without a non-federal sponsor, such as Southold Town.

This spring, Town Beach will once again receive tons of sand to rebuild this prized public space from the effects of erosion. This work will be done by town highway crews before the summer season begins. You could call it a band-aid, a temporary fix, but it is a fix that has to be done.

Moving ahead, what’s needed is an effort by the Southold Town Trustees, who are the foundation of all efforts to protect what we have here, to begin a critically needed study of how rising sea levels, climate change and the steady impact of erosion and storms will impact the fragile geology of the North Fork over time.

The Trustees today could give town leaders a tour of areas that already show the repercussions of rising sea levels. In other words, it is happening. Those in public life who pretend climate science is fake are deluding themselves and their followers. We need action based on solid science, not politics. Southold can and should lead its own effort — and it should begin now.

Photo caption: Southold Town Councilman Jim Dinizio visited Hashamomuck Cove in Southold Friday and took photos of the storm damage. (Courtesy photo) 

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