At a Tuesday, Sept. 9 meeting, the Suffolk County Legislature unanimously passed a bill, proposed by Legislator Sarah Anker, that would create a task force to address the issue of coastal erosion on the North Shore of Long Island.
The task force, chaired by Anker and including seven environmental specialists, is looking to develop solutions that would protect the North Shore from some of the harmful effects of coastal erosion. The specialists involved come from Suffolk County’s Division of Planning, the Soil and Water Conservation District, the Department of Public Works, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the National Resource Conservation Service and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.
Dr. Henry Bokuniewicz, a professor of oceanography at the Stony Brook University School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, will also lend his expertise to the task force.
The organization will look at a wide range of conditions that are unique to the North Shore. According to Bokuniewicz, there are three main issues with erosion on the North Shore: safe navigation, impacts on the surrounding beaches and bluff erosion, which he identified as the most serious issue.
The South Shore is affected by ocean waves, and can either erode or conglomerate; the North Shore, on the other hand, is characterized by bluffs, so it can either remain stable or recede. The North Shore receives far less attention than the South Shore and storm tides on the North Shore tend to be very high, which, during storms, allows for the beaches to submerge completely. The submersion of the beaches allows for the waves to directly attack and undercut the bases of the bluffs. This is especially critical during major storms in which the water level rises, such as Superstorm Sandy and the December 1992 Nor’easter.
Erosion on the North Shore is not uniform and is compartmentalized; one section could collapse while another adjacent section remains stable and intact. That does not make it unpredictable, as the task force will be able to look at the areas that are the most at risk for the most damage. Conditions change quickly, though, which makes dealing with it very difficult, according to Bokuniewicz.
The task force’s goal is not to completely get rid of North Shore erosion, because it is not possible and erosion is necessary to preserve habitats, but there are many options and solutions. Bokuniewicz said they will need to create a “hierarchy of solutions” that would prioritize these options according to shoreline usage. Their goal is to protect safe navigation, roadways and public structures while at the same time protecting natural habitats.
“This issue is overdue and the problems are serious,” Bokuniewicz said. “Ocean beaches [on the South Shore] always get attention.”