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Aug 6, 2019 6:46 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

Kevin McAllister Of DefendH2O Talks About Climate Change

Kevin McAllister of Defend H20.  ELIZABETH VESPE
Aug 7, 2019 1:25 PM

Long Island’s well-being depends on a healthy environment, including healthy beaches, according to Kevin McAllister, who was the Peconic Baykeeper for 16 years and is the founder of Defend H20, a nonprofit organization that advocates for clean water.

However, the beaches are in peril due to the rising sea levels associated with climate change, and we need to act soon, according to Mr. McAllister.

On Thursday, August 15, from 6 to 8 p.m., Mr. McAllister and the actor and activist Alec Baldwin will engage in a conversation, titled “Living on the Edge in the Face of Climate Change,” at the Sag Harbor Whaling Museum. The public discussion will focus on the future of Long Island’s shoreline, rising sea levels, climate change and water quality. Tickets are $150; cocktails, hors d’oeuvres and a clam bar will be served.

“My job is using my training, understanding the issues and trying to educate. A lot of my time is spent in front of town boards. I’m trying to reinforce forward-thinking behavior, educate and illuminate what’s important. We need to have these conversations,” Mr. McAllister said last week in a question-and-answer interview. “Is Gerard Drive in Springs going to be there in 20 years? Let’s have a plan.”

Q: Is sea level rising? How much has the sea level risen locally? The sea level has risen in our region 4 inches in the past 40 years. Now, what scientists are projecting with glacial melting over the next 40 years is a range of 11 to 30 inches. That’s exponential.

Q: What does 11 to 30 inches mean to our neighborhoods?

Four inches over 40 years sounds modest compared to 30 inches over that next 40 years. What we’re really starting to see over the last five years is people taking notice of the 4-inch change. We’re getting into a period where sea level rising is going to ramp up.

Salt water is denser than fresh water. It comes in like a wedge. As sea level rises, it wedges in and taints the fresh water.

Years ago, basements in Sag Harbor that were dry, are now flooding because the groundwater comes in. Think of a septic system that sits in the groundwater; when you have a high water table and emerging groundwater, the likelihood of contamination to nearby creeks is also increased.

Q: What are some of the signs of climate change on the East End?

Migrating wetlands — wetlands that are moving inland.

Drowning forests. I can show you areas where trees that stood for over a hundred years are now dead because of salt. These are big oak trees in Flanders Bay and Moriches Bay and other areas that have been swamped. Sea water is coming in and salinity is changing because of sea level rise.

Shrinking shorelines, eroding shorelines, increasing number of sea walls — these are all signs of sea level rise.

Higher groundwater table. Old waterfront Sag Harbor homes, built in the ’50s, septic systems used to be high and dry. Now, decades later, the properties are being constantly flooded. That’s because of sea level rise. Once upon a time, the flooding wasn’t bad like this.

Q: How can we mitigate climate change? Is it too late to reverse the effects?

On a global scale, we’re already behind. We have to limit carbon dioxide — that’s how we can halt further melting. Moving away from fossil fuels, emissions from automobiles, and moving toward wind power and natural energy — that’s what has to happen on a global scale. We can’t delay.

Q: What plans are currently in place to stop the erosion of Long Island’s shoreline?

The [U.S. Army Corps of Engineers] is beefing up the armoring around the [Montauk] Lighthouse. The Army Corps has written up different prescriptions for stabilizing the beaches from Fire Island to Montauk: pumping beaches, removing groins, sand bypassing.

Q: In Montauk, there has been talk about moving motels and hotels away from the ocean. What would that accomplish? How would that work? Where would those massive hotels be relocated to?

I’ve been calling for coastal retreat in Montauk. It’s an eroding shoreline. There’s about 10 or 12 of those motels and condos on the shoreline. When they were developed in the ’60s, they were built right on top of the primary dune and obliterated the dune system.

I’m urging that we move or raise those buildings in the front row over the next decade, and restore the beach in conjunction with a massive dune restoration project. Is that well-received by the property owners? No. They’re in the mode of pumping sand onto the beaches. However, sand replenishment is extremely costly. The life of those replenished beaches is three to four years, and then you have to spend another $20 million to put sand back. Who is paying for this?

In the case of downtown, they’re exploring an “erosion control district.” They set boundaries, and all of the properties within the boundary are taxed into a pot of $20 million to pay for pumping the beach with sand. I just helped with a project in Quogue. The property owners were not in favor of being taxed, but the government doesn’t have the money to keep spending.

This is where we need more of a comprehensive approach. They’ve been looking at areas by the railroad station or rezoning other locations for relocation. I’m not trying to dismiss how complex the process is. The government has to commit to some serious action.

Q: If the shoreline continues to shrink, water continues to rise, and the shoreline continues to erode, what can we do?

Three choices: move the buildings, leaving nature to take its course; armor the shore with vertical walls, stone sandbags, geo-textile tubes, sand bags, groins; or sand replenishment, which isn’t practical due to cost.

Vertical walls get rid of the walkable beach and increase erosion in the long run. If you build a wall behind a wetland, the wetland won’t be able to migrate and will eventually drown, because it’s pinched. For a period of time, it will provide protection, but the trade-off is sacrificing the walkable beach.

Q: Is relocating buildings and homes a practical means to deal with climate change and rising sea levels?

No, it’s not. Restoring the dunes is a better option — managing dunes with sand fencing, plantings, and expanding dunes in natural areas to dominate waterfront properties.

A dune is a sand surplus. It’s not only a shock absorber when storms and surges hit, the dunes are a buffer. The beach changes with erosion, and the dunes give up material to maintain a stable beach. Indian Wells and Atlantic Beach [in Amagansett], there is no development. There is a big, wide dune system. Those beaches are always stable. In the wintertime, you see it narrow, and in the summer, it’s full. It’s not eroding to the parking lot. It’s a stable system, because the dune and beach are intact. It’s when we build structures that something will give.

Q: Does extreme weather follow climate change?

Winter Storm Grayson was considered a “bomb cyclone” in January 2018. It formed near Florida and came up the East Coast. NOAA captured a photo of the storm. It was a winter hurricane. Nantucket hit 73 mph winds and massive erosion.

That’s climate change. The experts are predicting more pronounced storms. Is Hurricane Grayson an indication of storms to come? Yes, it absolutely is.

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Who funds this non-profit and his salary?

How much was given by advanced septic system business interests?
By MoronEliminator (209), Montauk on Aug 10, 19 1:43 PM
Always a conspiracy huh Eliminator?
By Enviro Guy (44), Southampton on Aug 13, 19 8:22 AM
Our waterways are imperiled. This affects tourism and our pocketbooks. Glad that these organizations are raising awareness.

By Liftup88 (8), Southampton on Aug 12, 19 11:32 AM
1 member liked this comment
Nice to see Kevin McCallister thriving after all he went through on Christmas in 1990.
By Pacman (260), Southampton on Aug 14, 19 1:04 PM
The Hampton Classic, Horse Show, Bridgehampton