The Surfrider Foundation just released its 2019 State of the Beach Report with grades for 31 U.S. states, and the territory of Puerto Rico, on their policies to protect our nation’s beaches from: coastal erosion, sea level rise, and poorly planned development. The results reveal 23 out of 31, or 74% of states and territories assessed are performing at adequate to poor levels, with most of the lowest grades located in regions heavily impacted by extreme weather events.
So how did New York Only Earn a “C”?
Let’s dive in.
The state of New York has a unique combination of shorelines that border Lake Ontario and the Atlantic Ocean. Tourists and New York natives often frequent the state’s eastern beaches, such as Long Island, Coney Island and the Hamptons. However, the policies to regulate these coastal resources are lacking, specifically in the areas of coastal armoring. The state continues to build massive seawalls and encourages the use of floodgates in lieu of considering options to move people back from the shore.
Sediment Management: BAD
New York does not have a statewide sediment management plan. Instead, it relies heavily on replenishment as the go-to shoreline stabilization method, despite the practice being costly and short-term. While the state has a beach replenishment policy, it lacks necessary rigor to sufficiently protect the coastal habitat. Fortunately, material placed on beaches must come from a clean source and be of equivalent grain size. While the state is working with the Army Corps to establish erosion management policies and regional plans, there has been little progress.
Coastal Armoring: OK
While the state has policies on limiting shoreline stabilization structures in sensitive areas and promoting soft or natural approaches to shoreline stabilization, there are no policy restrictions on rebuilding coastal armoring. After Hurricane Sandy, the state issued a General Permit for coastal armoring for Long Island and New York City. General Permits are problematic because they do not thoroughly analyze environmental impacts. In addition, a 5-mile long seawall is planned to be built around Staten Island. While a dune component is included, the massive seawall could have been scaled back. Additionally, the state is considering building a floodgate across New York Harbor to Sandy Hook, New Jersey, that would have major environmental impacts.
New York has policies to protect natural resources that provide coastal hazard mitigation benefits, such as dunes, wetlands and reefs. The state prohibits the excavation or mining of dunes, in addition to vehicle traffic and certain types of foot traffic. Unfortunately, the state allows the restoration of damaged structures without a permit. Since Hurricane Sandy impacted the area in 2012, some development standards have been improved. However, New York allows exemptions to setback policies during the permitting process for new construction.
Sea Level Rise: Good
The state has conducted a vulnerability assessment and has sea level rise mapping. There is also a Coastal New York Future Floodplain Mapper that is available to the public. In addition, the state encourages adaptation planning and aims to protect habitats that will allow for potential sea level rise. After Hurricane Sandy, several commissions were created to study impacts from climate change and sea level rise. Finally, the Buyout and Acquisitions Program increases coastal resiliency by purchasing infrastructure and land to create natural coastal buffers that can better weather future storms.
How can we help New York do better?
As activists, we can lobby our local, county, and state governments to do all of the following things to ensure our beaches are protected from sea level rise:
- Encourage regional sediment management plans.
- Strengthen the beach replenishment policy to require strict monitoring requirements and a maximum on the amount of times replenishment can occur in a certain time period.
- Require rigorous permits for the reconstruction of damaged homes.
- Avoid exceptions to setback requirements.
- Develop policy restrictions regarding rebuilding coastal armoring and remove the General Permit for coastal armoring in Long Island and New York City.
- Develop stronger funding mechanisms for ‘buyout’ programs.
- Do not build a floodgate in the New York Harbor.
National Takeaways from the State of the Beach Report Card:
- Most of the states that “lay in the path” of extreme weather lack solid coastal preservation and sea level rise policies. The recent devastating hurricane season highlights that stronger policies and regulations will better protect coastal resources and save taxpayers money when rebuilding in the future.
- The lack of federal leadership and financial support is hindering how states respond to erosion and sea level rise. Unfortunately, the Trump administration has rolled back policies and funding mechanisms, making it challenging for states to properly plan. In addition, some federal agencies hold up and hinder local plans that have been languishing for years.
- Sea level rise planning is an absolute must for all states. Considering that sea levels could rise up to six feet by the end of the century, it is critical that coastal states implement climate change adaptation measures in order to protect coastal resources and taxpayers. Now is the time for coastal states to proactively and strategically plan for sea level rise to avoid the loss of beaches, homes, communities, public access, recreation and healthy ecosystems.