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Sand Dunes Prove Their Worth Along the NY Shore

Surfers, local businesses and residents alike rallied against kicking in $7 million for an Army Corps of Engineers plan to elevate beaches and erect sand dunes in Long Beach, NY six years ago. Post-Hurricane Sandy, most regret this choice.
December 6, 2012, 1pm PST | Erica Gutiérrez
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The broader $98 million plan spared neighboring coastal communities such as Point Lookout, Lido Beach and Atlantic Beach millions in damages from Sandy, whereas “Long Beach suffered at least $200 million in property and infrastructure losses, according to preliminary estimates,” reports Mireya Navarro. Though it is still early to assess the exact impact of the Army's project, “for the most part, dune barriers acted like soft sea walls made of sand and vegetation that even when flattened or breached still managed to protect places like Westhampton Beach on Long Island, Plumb Beach in Brooklyn, and Bradley Beach in Monmouth County, N.J.,” she adds.

As Long Beach and other local communities look to rebuild, past opposition to sand dunes is being reconsidered. “But some shoreline experts warn that anything short of relocating the buildings and development closest to the ocean only buys time as sea levels rise,” writes Navarro. Orrin H. Pilkey, professor emeritus of earth and ocean sciences at Duke University, “supports dune restoration but also proposes limiting and mitigating development, including not rebuilding destroyed homes next to the beach and elevating others onto stilts to avoid flooding in the event that dunes are overtopped.”

Ultimately, each community will need to decide on how to move forward. “Our preference is to put those dunes back as quickly as possible,” said Julie Schreck, the mayor of Bradley Beach. “I hope other communities will consider trying to emulate nature as much as they can, but I guess every town has to take stock of its own preferences.”

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Published on Tuesday, December 4, 2012 in The New York Times
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