Southold Trustees request coast resiliency policy

The Southold Town Trustees brought another recommendation before the Town Board on Tuesday, calling for a comprehensive coastal resiliency policy.

The Trustees are asking for an independent group tasked with the goal of developing that policy for the town code. 

The Trustees are seeing a 10 percent increase in their application workload related to a storm that preceded winter storm Grayson on Jan. 4, indicating a need for a “thoughtful approach to coastal resiliency not presently written in our code,” according to a letter Trustees read at Tuesday’s Town Board work session.

“If storms are more frequent and severe, and if the Board of Trustees approves the rebuild of a damaged bulkhead or staircase to the beach, are we committed to a second or third or fourth rebuild?” they asked in the letter. “At what point do we recognize Mother Nature sets the parameters of the discussion?”

The Trustees conducted their most recent field inspection on Jan. 9, less than a week after winter storm Grayson. Four out of 38 applications the Trustees reviewed were damaged bluffs, bulkheads and staircases, and the board expects more emergency applications related to the storm as damage covered by drifting snow is revealed and part-time residents return, according to a letter presented to the Town Board.

Two recent emergency applications were received too late to be included in the Trustees’ January agenda, one of which was related to a bluff restoration and staircase that had received a certificate of compliance on Dec. 17. The work at that site was destroyed less than a month later in the Jan. 4 storm, according to the letter.

Trustee president Mike Domino said if that property owner is given permission to rebuild the staircase, it’s likely it could be wiped out by another storm considering the “circumstances of global warming and cyclonic storms.”

The other late application involved a home on County Route 48, where an entire bulkhead and two rows of gabions — wirework walls filled with stone — disappeared in the storm. Route 48 was in danger of being breached and was protected by the home and bulkhead structure at that location. Now, one row of gabions is all that remains to protect the home and the road, and the winter storm season is “far from over”, according to the Trustees’ letter.

“There is no debate about global warming or sea level rise,” the letter states. “There is only debate over the rate at which the rate of change is occurring.”

Additionally, evidence suggests that flooding events that “create a major episode” along the coast “will become the new normal” in town, according to the Trustees.

Supervisor Scott Russell said a core issue that first needs to be addressed is hard setbacks on properties near water, and although he said he is not advocating for them, he said they are something that should be on the table.

“You say 100 feet, you gotta mean 100 feet,” he said. “You say 75 feet, you gotta mean 75 feet.”
While hard setbacks are not a fix-all, he said, they are “probably the only way you’re going to effectively make changes in terms of reducing the vulnerable real property in those areas.”

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