Abandon our coast? Heaven — and HUD — forbid

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Henry Bokuniewicz, a professor at SUNY Stony Brook’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, also recently examined managed retreat in “Tailoring Local Responses to Rising Sea Level: A Suggestion for Long Island,” published by the Coastal Ocean Action Strategies Institute. “Tenaciously holding the shoreline has been the economically defensible choice along urban, heavily developed coasts and ports,” Bokuniewicz wrote. “Unabashed retreat has been a responsible tactic along some undeveloped coasts, especially parkland. Most of the coastline, however, falls somewhere in between … and a compromise strategy of orderly withdrawal behind defensible positions may be required.”

Bokuniewicz focused on the communities surrounding the Great South Bay, which he described as a coastal lagoon, 39 miles long by 6 miles wide, extending from Lindenhurst east past Patchogue. The bay’s northern shore is “fairly well developed,” while Fire Island, the barrier island that forms its southern shoreline, is “lightly developed,” he wrote.

Bokuniewicz suggested that we hold our position on the northern shoreline with bulkheads, while “maintaining the integrity” of Fire Island through beach replenishment. But, he added, “The loss of private property on [Fire Island] is inevitable if the rate of sea level rise accelerates.”

There are clearly no quick fixes to the climate-change crisis. That worries and angers people. As Americans, we are accustomed to fast solutions.

Fortifying our coastline to hold back the sea, however, is a project on the order of constructing our 41,000-mile national highway system, which President Eisenhower undertook in part to foster interstate commerce, but more so to create a transportation network that could move people from major cities to any part of the country in the event of a Soviet nuclear attack. Congress passed the Federal Highway Act in 1956. The highway system was originally estimated to cost $27 billion to construct over 12 years. It wound up costing $128.9 billion, and, 58 years later, one last section of highway north of Philadelphia remains to be built, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.
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