Editorial: New town Trustees will have a lot on their plates

This month’s global climate change summit in Glasgow, billed as the planet’s “last, best hope,” has come and gone. It’s safe to say most Americans probably didn’t pay much attention to what it covered or what was decided, even though the issue it addressed unites all of us, everywhere.

By now, we’re all aware that climate change is upon us. It’s here and now and even the most conservative science-based predictions have sea levels continuing to rise, severe heat waves being more common and storms growing fiercer. 

Exactly how rising waters in Long Island Sound and the Peconic Bay estuary will impact waterfront homes, businesses like marinas and local roadways is not fully known right now.

But there will definitely be an impact, and on the North Fork — this bony, arthritic finger sticking out into the Atlantic Ocean — it will be substantial. The Sound and bay are too close to each other in several places for it not to be. 

One question is how long it will take for merely “routine” storms — not hurricanes or nor’easters that hit right at the high tide — to wash out our roads and threaten waterfront properties to the point where homes must be relocated, or the homeowners told they cannot rebuild, and roadways must be raised at great expense. 

Hardening the waterfront to protect properties and continuing to move large amounts of sand to restore and maintain our beaches are expensive solutions. These measures are also like putting a patch on an old tire. They may help in the short term, but after that, who knows?

We say all of this for the simple reason that three new people will soon take their places on the Board of Trustees. They are Eric Sepenoski, Elizabeth Peeples and Liz Gillooly. They replace two long-term Trustee standouts, John Bredemeyer and Mike Domino. The third Trustee, Greg Williams, whose term will expire, ran unsuccessfully for the Town Board.

So we will have a new group of Trustees at an auspicious time in Southold Town history. With its duties focused on overseeing our changing waterfront, this board will immediately become the most important in its long history. It should reach out to equivalent boards on the South Fork to share knowledge and to monitor impacts there. Perhaps a “super board” encompassing all five East End towns would help with the sharing of data.

We have said many times in this space that the big three for Southold Town are farmland preservation, the health of our salt creeks and the preservation of the Peconic Bay estuary. With every development proposal that lands in Town Hall, these concerns must be paramount. The current Town Board under Supervisor Scott Russell has strongly focused on these areas, too. So we are in a better place in town government to tackle the big issues before us because of that. 

As for the climate summit in Scotland, consider that the top priority laid out is to limit the rise in global temperatures to 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit above preindustrial levels. Beyond that, water shortages, crop damage, wildfires, ferocious storms and killer heat waves will force tens of millions of refugees to flee their homes. Where will they go?

With that figure as a baseline, the summit noted that worldwide temperatures have already warmed by 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit, which has spawned massive ice melts in places like Greenland.

This is what the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says: In 2014, global sea level was 2.6 inches above the 1993 average. That was nearly eight years ago. That number is higher now, and we see it every time the moon is full and tides are higher.

The new Trustees, working with a realigned Town Board, have their work cut out for them in terms of what code changes should be made in the coming years and how the town will respond when new money starts complaining that the area in front of their home has washed away — and asking who will pay to fix it.