There’s a long-held belief in Montauk that there is a schism between the business community and environmentalists, but as coastal flooding has become a frequent reality here, that schism may be melting.

This past winter, a private donor funded The Nature Conservancy’s involvement in a conversation with Montauk’s business community on the topic of coastal resilience, which “has been a very hard, complex topic to tackle,” Montauk Chamber of Commerce President Leo Daunt told an overflow crowd that gathered at the Montauk Library for a June 9 conversation on “Coastal Resiliency and the Future of Our Town.”

Pictured Above: Bulldozers belonging to Army Corps contractors Great Lakes Dock and Dredge staging near the Montauk IGA at one of the lowest spots in downtown Montauk this past winter.

There were more than 100 people in attendance, some watching via a livestream upstairs in the library, and many more participated by Zoom. The forum was organized by Concerned Citizens of Montauk, and is expected to be the first of many community meetings as East Hampton Town works to implement its 2022 Coastal Assessment Resiliency Plan, known locally as CARP.

One of the most contentious recommendations of the CARP is the eventual relocation landward of a block of hotels that line the downtown Montauk oceanfront.

Mr. Daunt’s family has owned Daunt’s Albatross, a motel one block in from the ocean in downtown Montauk, since the 1970s.

“In the 70s and 80s, building on the dunes probably wasn’t the best idea. We all realize that now,” he said at the forum. “At the same time, there are hundreds of hotel rooms on those dunes that support an entire economy now. If you just shut down one of those hotels, you don’t know what else is going to happen.”

Mr. Daunt, who also served on the town’s CARP advisory committee, said the conversations with business leaders facilitated by The Nature Conservancy took place at a crucial moment, after a series of severe storms this past winter flooded downtown Montauk and before Army Corps of Engineers contractors came in this spring for a long-awaited 600,000-cubic yard sand replenishment of the beach there.

montauk renourishment March 2024
The beach in downtown Montauk as seen from the South Edison Street road end after this winter’s Army Corps project.

“There’s a concern about economic resiliency, post-Covid,” he said, adding that this past winter was “significantly slower” for businesses in Montauk than recent winters. “Demographic changes are accelerating, and rapidly limiting our customer base and work force. A lot of businesses are considering closing for the winter. We really hope to also address the fact that we need to have year-round businesses in Montauk in order to have a community.”

Mr. Daunt said every business owner involved in the conversation “wanted a vision for a vibrant, year-round downtown,” and had an “understanding of Montauk’s vulnerability to recent climate events…. There is a recognition that resilience planning and smart growth planning can and should be addressed together.”

“The divide on this topic made no sense,” he added. “The business and residential communities are interconnected. The economy being strong doesn’t mean the environment has to be bad.”

Mr. Daunt said he recently found promotional materials at the Montauk Chamber of Commerce from the 1970s with the tagline “Our Environment is Our Economy.”

“Our guests at the hotel come to hike Shadmoor and go to the beach,” he said. “We’re all on board, and all the residents we talked to said ‘we want a strong year-round economy as well.’ Bridging that gap is really important to us at the Chamber.'”

The Chamber is now working with consultants JLPD on ideas for combining smart growth and resiliency planning.

“It’s not just the hotels on that front row that are under threat — One of the biggest things we kept coming back to was food resiliency,” he said. “The IGA is at the lowest point in Montauk.”

East Hampton Town Deputy Supervisor Cate Rogers, who was also on the panel, agreed.

“In the past, there was this idea that environmentalists were in one circle and business owners were over here,” she said, adding that, in her involvement with The Climate Reality Project, she’s learned that “we have to come out of our silos and all work in the middle circles. The best solutions come from the most engagement.”

Ms. Rogers said she sometimes hears from people who think the best thing to do is to ‘let it all go,'” and let nature take over. Though nature-based solutions are part of climate resiliency planning, she cautioned that letting nature completely take over isn’t as pretty as it sounds.

“I don’t think what folks envision is what really happens,” she said. “You don’t have a pristine, lovely beach. You have environmental hazard and community tragedy. If we were to decide to do absolutely nothing, what you’re left with is a mess that really would impact everyone in this town. For me, that’s not an option.'”

Ms. Rogers said that, in addition to the town’s ongoing work with CARP, the Army Corps project, a Climate Action Plan, becoming a Climate Smart Community, and adopting a new ‘Purposes of Zoning’ chapter that views the zoning code through the lens of sustainability, the town is also working with PSEG-Long Island on plans to decommission an electrical substation on Industrial Road — a frequent site of flooding between Fort Pond and Fort Pond Bay — and to elevate a portion of Shore Road and build a flood-resistant substation there.

Ditch Plains after the recent storms |. East Hampton Town photo
Ditch Plains Beach after the recent storms this winter. |. East Hampton Town courtesy photo

The town is also working on a plan to renourish the beach at Ditch Plains and build a 15-foot high, FEMA-compliant dune there, with the help of the firm Coastal Science and Engineering, with the hopes the project will protect the beach this winter.

Ms. Rogers said the cost of coastal resilience solutions, and who will pay for them, is going to be a tough discussion in the years ahead.

The downtown Montauk Army Corps replenishment, paid for by the federal government, cost $11 million, and is expected to be maintained by the federal government every four years for the next 30 years. The Ditch Plains renourishment is expected to cost $4 million to $5 million, she said.

The town is looking into the possibility of creating erosion control property taxing districts to pay for sand replenishment of ocean beaches in downtown Montauk and Ditch Plains, but she said she personally has not made a decision on whether that’s the right route to take.

East Hampton Town Intergovernmental Relations Coordinator Samantha Klein, who was the project lead on the CARP plan in her prior role in the town’s Natural Resources Department, pointed out that access to emergency services is going to be crucial for Montauk in the years ahead.

“Montauk has areas with very low-lying topography, some between two bodies of water, like on Industrial Road and in Ditch Plains, also in downtown Montauk,” she said. “There’s also very low depth to groundwater in certain areas, which is a concern because a lot of properties have on-site septic systems, and there are water quality concerns that come from that.”

She added that historical terminology like the idea of a 100-year storm are also changing.

Andy Harris, Chair of CCOM’s Environmental Committee, moderated the discussion, putting the local climate figures in focus.

“During the next 30 years, the chance of Montauk experiencing a flood event similar to the 1938 hurricane at least once is about 60 percent,” he said. “It’s a very high percentage in terms of expectations for significant coastal damage in Montauk, and in that time, the sea level is expected to rise 12 to 30 inches. Climate change also increases the intensity and frequency of hurricanes.”

“Clearly the clock is ticking, and we need to act now,” he said.

The slides from the presentation are on CCOM’s website here, and it was also recorded by LTV and is on LTV’s YouTube channel.

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Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at

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