Rising sea levels and more frequent, more intense severe storms are battering the coastline, causing severe erosion. January 2017 file photo: Peter Blasl

Suffolk County has established a coastal erosion and sea level rise task force.

The task force was proposed by North Fork Legislator Al Krupski, who said its purpose is to develop strategies for dealing with severe storms, coastal erosion and rising sea levels.

A resolution establishing the task force was unanimously approved by the county legislature at its meeting Tuesday.

The task force will have 21 members, including representatives of each of Suffolk’s 10 towns, county government, the state environmental conservation, transportation and state departments, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, Peconic Estuary Program and the Nature Conservancy. Krupski, as chairperson of the legislature’s Public Works, Transportation and Energy committee, will serve as task force chairperson.

Legislator Al Krupski at Tuesday’s County Legislature meeting.

“The idea is to get people who are affected by this from a jurisdictional standpoint in the same room to discuss strategies,” Krupski said. “We have to have everyone in the same room,” he said.

“Sea level rise has led to accelerated coastal erosion worldwide and is of particular concern to Long Island, with threats of destruction to Suffolk County’s 980 miles of coastline,” Krupski’s resolution says.

“You’ve got areas that are flooding regularly,” Krupski said in an interview. “We need to look at it comprehensively or you find that we’re spending $10 million for sand on a beach and it’s gone the next day.”

The beach in the area known as the point at Indian Island County Park is eroding away, exposing tree roots. Former upland areas are now inundated at high tide. Photo: Denise Civiletti

Coastal erosion of the county’s shoreline, which is more and more frequently battered by severe storms, will have dire economic impacts — including impacts to the county’s tourism economy.

Several government reports issued since 2010 have stressed the urgency of taking steps to enhance coastal resiliency as well as infrastructure as sea level continues to rise and erosion increases.

According to a December 2010 report by the New York State Sea Level Rise Task Force, all land areas with elevations of less than four feet above sea level today will be either permanently under water or inundated by tides before the end of this century — or sooner if the melting of polar ice caps continues at a rapid pace.

“An area far broader than the immediate coastline will witness flooding and erosion associated with increasingly powerful storms,” the state task force found.

Rising tide floods the riverfront Jan. 20, 2019. File photo: Peter Blasl

In a June 2012 report, the U.S. Geological Survey said the Mid-Atlantic Coast — including Long Island — is experiencing sea-level rise at rates three to four times higher than the global average rate — because the land mass of the entire region is actually sinking. See: Is Riverhead prepared to handle the impacts of climate change? (Nov. 28, 2018)

Scientists project sea-level rise here to range from two feet to six feet above current levels by the end of the century — higher than the one to four feet expected globally.

“There’s a lot going on and things are changing kind of quickly,” Krupski said, stressing the urgent need for immediate action to deal with erosion and flooding. He also said the county needs to have emergency evacuation plans and routes in place.

The county task force has have one year to conduct a comprehensive study on the challenges created by sea level rise and issue a written report recommending regional coastal resiliency policies that will help protect the county’s coastlines and to assist municipalities with decision-making.

The task force will expire March 1, 2021.

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.