Last week, the Suffolk County Legislature took a bold step forward in dealing with the issue of climate change and its impact on our towns, hamlets and neighborhoods.
Legislators adopted a resolution that will require the county Department of Public Works to take sea level rise into account when building and rebuilding county-owned roads. This is a big step and one of the first official actions on Long Island to take sea level rise into consideration before pouring millions of taxpayer dollars into public works projects.
The resolution was sponsored by Legislator Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue), who spent two decades as a Southold Town Trustee overseeing our precious wetlands and tidal areas. Given that experience, Mr. Krupski didn’t need a crystal ball to see what the future holds for eastern Long Island as the ocean continues its upward movement — nor did he choose to wait it out to see just what higher water levels in Peconic Bay and Long Island Sound will bring to the North Fork.
It is very good news that the Legislature acted. Doing nothing, or biding our time, are no longer acceptable options. Science tells us this change is already underway. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s “medium” projections say that by 2020, the ocean will have risen six inches since 1900. By 2050, the DEC predicts, sea level rise will amount to a whopping 16 inches.
Picture a nor’easter or a superstorm 31 years from now — bearing down on the North Fork during a full moon and a hide tide — with the ocean at that “medium” level.
In our news story on this resolution, Mr. Krupski says, “Working with DPW on some of these road projects, it’s pretty obvious what’s happening. If you are going to put in the infrastructure, put it in the right way and it will pay off in a time of high water, because people will be able to get through.”
Governance is hard work. It is, for members on any town or village board, a full-time effort to address what has to be addressed, and pass laws that should be passed without imposing a heavy hand. Governing is also largely a real-time effort, rather than one that offers the luxury of peering over the horizon to see what is coming and to plan ahead.
Elected officials have their hands full dealing with the here and now. But the actions of the Legislature with this resolution show that a framework for dealing with sea level rise is now being considered, at least when it comes to future DPW projects. That is an excellent start.
What might be needed moving forward is some sort of Future Commission, a group of experts — public figures, scientists, etc. — charged with studying available data on what is coming our way and, perhaps, addressing the major issue of our time here on the North Fork: What do we want to be in 10 years? That is, indeed, the question facing all of us.