Once again, beach dunes prove they blunt storms

Long Beach, NY — Surfers railed against the project because they said it would interfere with the curl of the waves. Local businesses reliant on beach tourism hated it, too. Who would flock to the historic Boardwalk, they asked, if sand dunes were engineered to rise up and obscure the ocean view?

And many residents did not care for the aesthetics of the $98 million plan — declaring that they preferred the beach wide and flat, with the soft, light-colored native sand that they had grown up with.

So, six years ago, after the Army Corps of Engineers proposed to erect dunes and elevate beaches along more than six miles of coast to protect this barrier island, the Long Beach City Council voted 5 to 0 against paying its $7 million initial share and taking part.

Many of Long Beach’s 33,000 residents would come to regret it.

The smaller neighboring communities on the barrier island — Point Lookout, Lido Beach and Atlantic Beach — approved construction of 15-foot-high dunes as storm insurance. Those dunes did their job, sparing them catastrophic damage while Long Beach suffered at least $200 million in property and infrastructure losses, according to preliminary estimates.

Joe Vietri, director of coastal and storm risk management for the corps, toured the damaged coastlines after the 12-to-14-foot storm surge of Hurricane Sandy and came to an inescapable conclusion. “The difference was dramatic for areas with vital and healthy dune systems, which did better than those that did not,” he said in a telephone interview. “You can see the evidence on Point Lookout and Lido Beach, which did much better than Long Beach…”

…Up and down the coast, for the most part, dune barriers acted like soft sea walls made of sand and vegetation that even when flattened or breached still managed to protect places like Westhampton Beach on Long Island, Plumb Beach in Brooklyn, and Bradley Beach in Monmouth County, N.J., by blunting the attack of surging waves and tides.

Long Beach and other vulnerable communities will have to await an act of Congress before restoration and beach-protection projects can move forward. New York’s senators, Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten E. Gillibrand, have asked for a $1 billion emergency appropriation to pay for seven corps sea-barrier construction projects that have been approved by Congress but have never been financed. Included are construction on the south shore of Staten Island, Coney Island, Rockaway Beach, Long Beach and the shoreline from Fire Island to Montauk Point.

Frankly, these are the people who should go to the bottom of the list. Summer cottage NIMBYs and surfer-dudes haven’t world-class reputations for understanding the history and sensibility of sand dune systems; but, long time residents, year-round residents who’ve lived through off season storms tended to support the project. Especially geezers who’ve been through a big storm or two.

About as many hack politicians listened to them as pay attention to research on climate change. The information has been around for centuries in communities which have learned to live with storms around the world. Being able to afford overpriced real estate doesn’t automagically equip you with a degree in environmental engineering.

Spend the money first on folks who had the sense to recognize a sound idea when they confronted it.

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