Dune Road in Westhampton is one of the areas of Southampton Township with a high number of properties at risk from chronic inundation due to sea level rise.
Dune Road in Westhampton is one of the areas of Southampton Township with a high number of properties at risk from chronic inundation due to sea level rise.

Southampton Town has the second greatest value of real estate vulnerable to regular flooding by 2045 in the United States due to sea level rise, according to a new report titled “Underwater” issued by the Union of Concerned Scientists, second only to Miami Beach.

The report, which analyzed the value of property at risk due to sea level rise throughout the country, values the real estate at risk of chronic inundation within the next 27 years in Miami Beach at nearly $6.5 billion, with Southampton Town coming in second with more than $3.6 billion of property value at risk.

These 594 Southampton properties contribute nearly $70.5 million to the town’s property tax base, and house an estimated 778 people.

By comparison, according to the report, East Hampton Town has 54 properties at risk of chronic inundation by 2045, valued at a total of $2.3 billion, contributing just over $44,000 to the tax base and housing just 55 people.

Southold Town has 168 properties at risk by 2045, worth a collective $100 million, contributing $1.9 million to the town’s tax base, and housing 237 people.

Just 24 houses are at risk on Shelter Island, worth a collective $24 million, contributing just over $470,000 to the tax base and housing 21. Twenty-four houses are also at risk in Riverhead Town, worth a collective $6.4 million, contributing $125,000 to the local property tax base and housing 51 people.

The report defines “chronic inundation” as flooding that occurs at least 26 times per year, or every other week. This is what is known among climate scientists as “sunny day flooding” due to sea level rise and the normal tidal cycle, not the flooding caused by major storm events.

“By 2045, the three counties that make up most of Long Island—Suffolk, Nassau, and Queens—could encompass nearly 15,000 homes at risk of chronic inundation,” according to the report. “Today, there are roughly 40,000 people living in those homes, which are collectively valued at $7.7 billion. In contrast, Manhattan has no at-risk homes in this time frame.”

While Southampton’s pricey second homes contribute a great deal in dollar value to the risks associated with climate change, the report is quick to point out that rising seas affect people at all income levels, especially in areas where more people live in each house.

The report states that 15,500 of today’s residential properties in New York, currently home to about 42,000 people, are at risk of chronic inundation by 2045, “with most of these homes located in the Hempstead, Babylon and Queens areas of Long Island.”

“Some New York communities facing significant risk in the next 30 years are home to communities that may be at an inherent disadvantage to prevent or recover from chronic flooding due to longstanding social and economic inequities,” according to the report. “In Queens, a community that has above average percentages of African American and Hispanic residents, there are over 2,700 homes at risk by 2045.”

“The National Flood Insurance Program includes a significant number of discounted and grandfathered policies, which effectively creates a program of subsidized insurance coverage for Americans to live at the coast, and an explicit cross-subsidy from inland to coastal areas encourages more development in coastal regions,” said Roger Grenier, senior vice president, and global resilience practice leader at AIR Worldwide Consulting & Client Services. “At the local level, policies need to evolve to drive greater enforcement of building codes and more risk-based assessment of land use policies to ensure safe and sustainable economic development.”

“With a few exceptions, government has been slow in engaging on sea level rise. And, established coastal policies whose intent is to protect coastal resources are being largely ignored,” said Kevin McAllister of Defend H2O on the new report. “Long Island has experienced a 4 inch rise during the past 40 years, with an 11 to 30 inch rise projected for the next 40. Monumental changes are coming. It’s time for elected officials to process the science, recognize the imminent changes, and facilitate courageous decisions which prioritize recreational beaches, functioning wetlands and public access.”

”Along with more frequent major storm events, key tipping points will include substantial increases in flood insurance premiums over the next five to 10 years as we move to risk-based pricing (which the National Flood Insurance Program is targeting for 2019-2020 and which the private markets already do), denial of 30-year mortgages in some areas in say 15 to 20 years; and significant infrastructure projects over the next five to 10 years which impact real estate taxes as well as perceptions” said Michael Berman, a consultant who headed Hurricane Sandy Task Force.

“The concern I always have is that, ultimately, only some portions of the vast US coastline will be protected: major urban areas. Many, many other portions of the coast, along with their respective people and livelihoods, will remain in harms’ way,” said Cynthia L. McHale, director of Ceres, a sustainability non-profit looking for economic solutions to environmental challenges.

The full report is online at ucsusa.org.

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 editor@eastendbeacon.com

2 thoughts on “New Report Sheds Light on Local Impacts of Climate Change

  1. There has been no significant increase in the rate of global sea level rise during the past 50 years! (sea level has been rising for thousands of years) This hyping of a non-existent problem needs to stop!

    1. Bob, there’s broad scientific consensus that the rate of sea level rise is accelerating. There’s going to come a point where it’s neither smart nor politically expedient to bury our heads in the sands about this. We’re not going to lie to our readers to give them peace of mind about their worldview.

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