Resiliency Remains a Focus for the Future of Montauk

Lisa Liquori, of Fine Arts and Sciences, presents pictures of coastal erosion on beachfront in downtown Montauk during a discussion about the Montauk hamlet study at the Montauk Firehouse on Tuesday. Kathryn Menu photo

The East Hampton Town Board appears ready to move forward with a hamlet plan for Montauk, one that will undergo rigorous environmental review and likely step back from drastic coastal retreat. The focus would be more on creating coastal resiliency for downtown Montauk and its harbor area and creating long-term goals for sustainability of the hamlet with the threat of sea-level rise and coastal erosion looming.

During a work session Tuesday at the Montauk Firehouse, members of the East Hampton Town Board met with Lisa Liquori, a planner from Fine Arts & Sciences and a former town planning director, to chart a course forward for the hamlet study of Montauk asking her to “soften” the plans before the board considers adoption.

They also asked her to remove two traffic circles on Flamingo Avenue near the Long Island Railroad station.

Planning for the five hamlet studies, which would be included in the town’s Comprehensive Plan if adopted, began in 2015. The board is expected to continue discussions about the East Hampton and Springs hamlet studies at its April 16 meeting at East Hampton Town Hall.

The Montauk hamlet study has drawn some significant opposition, largely for the coastal retreat concept rolled out with the first draft of the study in February of 2018.

Discussing whether the Town Board should consider moving forward with an environmental review of the Montauk hamlet study, Ms. Liquori on Tuesday presented the board with pictures of the extreme erosion that occurred on beaches in downtown Montauk after “Superstorm” Sandy hit the region in 2012. Ms. Liquori noted the town already has three independent but related studies that explore coastal erosion in downtown Montauk, although none, she noted, actually set forward a course of action for the town. She suggested the Town Board look at the development of the core of downtown Montauk, away from the beach and dunes, and look at how a transfer of development rights program and wastewater management program fits in that area.

Councilman David Lys said the town also needs to explore what Federal Emergency Management Agency requirements will be for building in portions of Montauk over the next 10 to 20 years based on anticipated flood zones.

Councilwoman Sylvia Overby called the images Ms. Liquori shared “devastating” and said while property owners impacted by coastal erosion and sea level rise could obviously make a decision to stay regardless, a transfer of development rights program could protect the economic engine of downtown Montauk — its hotels and tourism.

Councilman Jeffrey Bragman suggested the environmental study would be a perfect lens to explore these issues and explore them with stakeholders in the community.

“We have done enough study so far to know what the impacts over a long period of time will be and if we are going to sustain our beach and beach economy we need to get more ahead,” said Supervisor Peter Van Scoyoc. “And that is where the conversation gets more difficult.”

The Supervisor said that will require business owners, environmentalists and residents to go through a process together to “come up with something everyone can support.” An environmental impact statement, he said, was a good process to come up with those answers, which would include alternatives to coastal retreat.

Ms. Liquori said before the Town Board considers adopting the hamlet plan and moving forward with the environmental review, she would revise the study to take out language that makes coastal retreat definitive and instead look at the general policy of needing to address coastal resiliency to preserve Montauk’s economy.