Guest Column: The time for action is now on rising seas

Southold Town faces countless issues that are highlighted weekly in the local papers and on social media. Amid all the controversy, the coastal discussion often seems lost. My experience serving four years on the Board of Trustees and working for Cornell Marine for five years prior leads me to be concerned for some unaddressed looming issues.

The hot button issues this election season issues are thrown around — i.e: “Southold is becoming the new Hamptons” and “The upswing of tourism and second-home owners is changing the dynamic of our historic hamlets” — while few question the impact this will have upon one of our greatest assets. Apart from the discussion of IA septic systems at almost all public forums, there seems to be too little thought put into how our town is changing on the waterfront. Monthly, the Board of Trustees receives up to 60 permit applications; some are simple in nature, but many are not. These applications and changes to our coastal habitats do not affect just those who live on or close to the water, but the entire population of Southold. Our legal rights to traverse the shoreline, utilize the beaches and fish the bountiful creeks and bays are affected one way or another by every decision I render as a Trustee.

The bottom line is every new homeowner wants something in addition to what they already have: bigger docks, longer bulkheads and significantly larger homes. In many cases that’s OK. However, changes must be made to assist the Trustees in rendering complex decisions on ever more complicated applications. The wetlands code, Chapter 275, and Coastal Erosion Hazard Area Law Chapter 111 are the current guidelines and legal standard that are used on all permit decisions. The code was written by intelligent individuals and protects the town on environmental issues. However, as the rate of complex applications rises it is absolutely necessary that the code be updated to accommodate issues currently not addressed within the code.

Unfortunately, the Trustees do not have the legal authority to change the code. We rely on the Town Board to bring the suggestions to the legal level. To date, many code changes have been suggested, with none making it past this process. Starting Jan. 1, whoever holds office on the Town Board must be charged with implementing the code changes we desperately need. Without the necessary changes, we will continue to watch the slow degradation of our greatest assets, application by application, with no legal standing to prevent it. To be clear, there is a certain amount of property right that is due to all homeowners along the shoreline. I have worked as a Trustee these past four years to find the balance between property rights and environmental impact. The Town Board and the supervisor must work with the Trustees to update the code to protect these resources for current and future residents. Inaction is not an option.

The second, and unfortunately more important issue, is the impact that sea level rise will have on the Town of Southold. The U.N. data released just days ago paints a daunting picture for the future coastal geography. Politicians can argue on the national stage about climate change and its cause all they want, but the numerical data for sea level rise is clear. This issue will impact Southold. The most recent data projects that sea level rise will reach an estimated 33 inches above now by the end of the century. For Southold, this means wetlands, beaches, roads, utilities and infrastructure will be underwater in the coming years.

In part, this issue is so massive and daunting that many do not want to start the discussion or mention it on party platforms. It’s the massive elephant in the room that no one wants to go near. However, as the county passed legislation last week to begin factoring sea level rise into all future planning, Southold must do the same.

The time for action is now. The Town Board, supervisor and Trustees need to work together to plan for the inevitable issues of the rising tides. Just a few thoughts on implementing change include the hiring of an environmental scientist tasked with addressing these concerns, as well as assisting the already inundated Board of Trustees. Another proposed idea is to reassign the Conservation Advisory Council, currently tasked with providing input on Trustee applications, which is something the Trustees have called for multiple times in the recent years. The talents of this intelligent group of volunteers are being underutilized.

Rather than have them review applications, creating a redundancy in the system, the Town Board can task them with addressing the more important issues facing our shore. While I applaud the Town Board for recently mentioning changing the activity of the CAC, they mention change at “the town’s own pace.” We must hold them accountable to maintain a meaningful pace. While passing of the pledge is a step in the right direction, it must be followed with immediate and deliberate action.

I do not mean to be all doom and gloom. These are problems within our town that need fixing — problems that are not discussed nearly enough in any forum aside from the office of the Trustees. What I hope to accomplish is to increase the longevity of the amazing town that I was born and raised in.

I want my daughter to be able to go crabbing for blue claw in August, fish for bass in the fall and swim at our pristine beaches all summer long, just as I did growing up. With the proper steps taken, I believe this can happen. Traffic, affordable housing, business district moratoriums and swimming pool facilities are all important issues to everyone in Southold, but if we can’t protect our greatest assets will any decisions made really matter?

I implore the people and elected officials of Southold to hold these issues near and dear and effect real change that will keep Southold the treasure we all know and love.

Mr. Krupski is a Southold Town Trustee and is running for reelection as a Democrat.