Karl Grossman column: Footing the beachfront folly bill

Folly Beach.

Yes, there really is such a place. It’s a living example of the folly of dumping sand on the shoreline in the expensive and fruitless attempt to try to hold back the ocean and protect multi-million-dollar beach houses.

Concerned Citizens of Quogue have included a current article about this beach in South Carolina in their current online newsletter, ccquogue.org. The group asks the question: “Quogue’s Own ‘Folly’ Beach?”

What’s happening to our neighbors in Quogue and the South Fork is a conflict that’s been going on for decades on Long Island over a disappearing coastline that has only been intensified by the impacts of Superstorm Sandy.

The conflict in Quogue would cost $14 million in taxpayer-financed sand dumping along the Quogue shoreline and that’s just a sample of the struggle involving the coast.

Shelter Island doesn’t have an oceanfront, but that doesn’t mean Shelter Islanders will be spared from shelling out for some Long Island shoreline sand-dumping — particularly if a massive scheme by the Army Corps of Engineers goes forward to dump sand along the south shore from Fire Island to Montauk Point. The plan was first advanced nearly 60 years ago but failed to happen because of financial and environmental issues. But there is now a big post-Sandy push underway by beachfront homeowners and some politicians for the plan.

A recent cost estimate for the sand-dumping along this 83-mile stretch of Suffolk’s south shore is $700 million. And this is to come largely from federal tax dollars paid by all Americans, including Shelter Islanders, when paying their annual income tax.

Meanwhile, down south comes this news: “Folly Beach — Huge waves kicked up by Friday’s storm scoured and swept away newly poured sands on the east end of this island,” begins the article from the Post and Courier of South Carolina published last month.

And it wasn’t an encore of Sandy that did it, just another blow.

The cost to Folly Beach? Some $30 million in dumped sand, now a month later all gone with the sea.
The newspaper quoted the manager of the Army Corps of Engineers’ Folly Beach project as saying that placing sand on the shore “doesn’t stop erosion. It protects properties. We put the required amount of sand out there. The sand didn’t hold up.”

And this was not the first time in recent years that loads of sand have been dumped on Folly Beach. It has been done again and again, at huge taxpayer cost. “The last time the work was done, in 2005, the cost was $12 million,” about “a third of the current cost,” notes the Post and Courier.

This rise in price for coastal sand-dumping is “mirroring the soaring cost of beach nourishment across the country,” comments Concerned Citizens of Quogue.

The organization also brings attention to a letter from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) that summarizes comments it has received on the $14 million plan to dump 1.1 million cubic yards of sand on the Quogue oceanfront.

The comments are right on the mark and include:

• “The relatively few homeowners affected by beach erosion in Quogue should consider relocating their homes landward.”

• “All village taxpayers should not have to pay for a project that will directly benefit a relative few.”

• “Since the longevity of large scale beach nourishment projects nationwide is variable at best and poor at worst, all concerned need to understand that the long term efficacy of the proposed project is not guaranteed. Funds expended to carry out the project could be wasted and there could be the expectation of the expenditure of additional funds to re-nourish the beach after the material from the first nourishment erodes.”

• “Oceanfront property owners must know that they are taking on considerable risk when they purchase or otherwise acquire their properties. These property owners, not the municipality, should be responsible for maintaining them.”

And then there’s my favorite statement: “The current development pattern on the barrier island in Quogue is unwise and unsustainable. The very large, very expensive, permanent homes, which now exist on the oceanfront, engender in the owners the understandable desire to protect them, at almost any cost, against the forces of nature, to the detriment of the beach and dunes. In the not so distant past, many people contented themselves with much smaller, less permanent, less valuable beach cottages, structures which they could afford to lose and/ or replace if they were damaged by erosion or storms.”

grossman_karl150 Karl Grossman’s syndicated “Suffolk Closeup” column is printed in the Shelter Island Reporter, a Times/Review Newsgroup publication.