The Sound shore of Southold Town faces severe erosion, and conservationists want guidance on changes.
The Sound shore of Southold Town faces severe erosion, and conservationists want a study to guide the best ways to protect the shore.

Southold’s Conservation Advisory Council, which advises the Town Trustees before they vote on projects that affect the town’s coastline, wants Southold to prepare a “full-blown assessment of what is going on out there” along the erosion-bitten coast, according to CAC Chairman Peter Young.

But the town board seemed relatively disinterested in the proposal when Mr. Young and CAC member Jack McGreevey presented it at Tuesday morning’s work session.

The CAC had asked the town board to undertake such a study back in March of 2011 and was similarly rebuffed at that time.

Mr. Young said the group’s “big concern right now is we’re applying Band Aids and it’s not going to work.”

This time around, they brought the board a paper written by CAC member Douglas Hardy, a retired marine biologist from Southold who has spent much time studying coastal erosion.

The paper, titled “The Starvation of Southold’s Beaches,” points to several shoreline protection practices that have had limited benefit, including what’s known as “toe armoring,” or placing boulders at the toe of a bluff, and the piecemeal approach of individual property owners to armoring the shoreline in front of their homes.

“This begins a downward spiral of bluff change by putting the shoreline out of alignment,” according to the paper. “Pleasant summer conditions nurture a mindset among property owners that simply hardening their property would be a reasonable solution to their erosion problem. They are unaware of the predictabel consequences awaiting their neighbors downstream if the nourishing sand train is slowly choked off bit by bit.”

“The cycle of erosion and response will continue as long as the sea level continues to rise,” it added. “As more and more bulkheads, seawalls, revetments and toe armor are installed and less sediment becomes available for transport by the longshore drift, the beaches downcurrent starve, causing drastic changes in shore profiles.”

The paper proposes that unvegetated bluffs along the Sound shore from Mattituck to Orient Point be declared “sensitive areas,” where shoreline hardening would be limited and homeowners would be encouraged to move their houses back from the bluffs. It also recomments that the town code adopt the New York State Sea Level Task Force’s planning standard, which predicts the sea will rise 3.5 feet by 2100.

East Hampton Town has taken the lead on the East End by applying for and receiving a grant from New York State for $250,000 last year to prepare a Coastal Assessment and Resiliency Plan.

But Southold Board members seemed unaware of potential funding sources at Tuesday’s work session.

Councilman Bob Ghosio said he’d like to know how much the study would cost and said he hopes the focus is on saving property.

“These things don’t come by cheaply,” said Mr. Young. “We’re talking tens of thousands of dollars.”

Councilwoman and Justice Louisa Evans said she’s concerned because there are also other studies being conducted at Goldsmith Inlet and Hashamomuck Cove, both on the Sound shore.

“They’re saying it’s Mother Nature and we don’t know what’s going to happen,” she said.

Mr. Young suggested the board at least “get the applied science to it in a rational, comprehensive fashion.”

“Whatever they recommend is going to be controversial,” he said. “None of these things are silver bullets, but we need to establish something right now. We are shooting ourselves in the foot.”

“To spend a quarter million on a bulkhead, and multiply that by ten, it’s unconscionable that we keep spending this money,” he added. “Even though it’s private money, it’s the same-old-same-old.”

Councilman Bill Ruland said that some of the board members had just met with a representative from new Congressman Lee Zeldin’s office, who had promised to help with Southold’s coastline issues.

“He has a keen interest in the North Shore, from Great Neck to Orient,” he said. “If other areas of the country can deal with the effects of the Atlantic Ocean, why cant we? A lot of that is politics.”

Mr. Ruland said the board would discuss the matter further with Town Supervisor Scott Russell, who wasn’t in attendance at the work session.

The paper insists that Southold accept the reality of climate change and act soon.

“Southold Town officials must publically accept the fact that the rising sea level constitutes a threat to public safety and property,” it reads. “The Town Board and Town Trustees must stress that most attempts to stabilize or defend public or private waterfront property will at best be delaying actions. Acceptance of these facts should compel a revision of some coastal management practices.”

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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