Fire Island to Montauk Point project

Land Use


Recent media reports have focused on the $700 million Fire Island to Montauk Point project, which is a federal plan to protect Long Island from hurricanes and nor’easters.  Under the plan, more than 4,000 homes in the 2-, 6- and 10- year flood plains would be elevated, new dunes would be created, old dunes would be reconstructed, and vulnerable roads would be elevated and turned into dikes.   While this plan has existed for some time, it has gained significant traction post-Sandy, and is presently being fine-tuned by the US Army Corps of Engineers.  Governor Cuomo, the National Park Service and Suffolk County generally support the plan, and Fire Island property owners are generally in favor of the plan.

Broad large-scale measures to control flooding have failed in the past.  However, it is clear that Sandy has resulted in a sense of urgency, and that without quick action, another storm may be on Long Island’s doorstep before any measures are implemented.  It could even be a storm more damaging than Sandy.

Steps to be taken under the plan include, dredging the Atlantic, followed by the construction of new dunes and the implementation of measures to protect Montauk’s business district.  Subsequently, south shore homes in designated flood plains would begin to be raised, at no cost to the owners.  Funding would come from the $51 billion Sandy aid bill.  $500 million of the $700 million under the plan would be used to raise 4,400 homes 5 to 10 feet, with stilts and cosmetic “break-away” walls.  In addition, certain coastal roadways would be elevated to act as dikes to hold flood-waters back and to bring them to elevations that would make them more accessible in flooding events.  Other critical facilities, including hospitals, nursing homes, police and fire stations would either be raised or be fitted with protective flood-proofing.   Another $140 million would be spent on rebuilding dunes and widening beaches.  The final $60 million would be spent on restoring wildlife habitats, salt marshes and wetlands.

Numerous approvals are still required for the plan, and later this month the US Army Corps of Engineers will provide state and local officials with a detailed plan and an environmental assessment.

However, there are questions that remain unanswered.  For example, we wonder how 4,400 homes can simply be raised up 5 to 10 feet where such homes might exist in numerous municipalities with distinct zoning regulations and building codes.  How can you raise a home that is built up to the 20 foot height restriction set forth in a local municipality’s zoning code?  As we discussed in our blog entry on February 6, 2013, New York City had to make critical changes to the New York City Zoning Resolution to facilitate the raising of homes because elevated homes might violate height restrictions under the Zoning Resolution.  The amendments changed the base elevation from which height is measured in designated flood zones.  It is critical that Suffolk County take the lead and make consistent recommendations to all affected municipalities with respect to the changes that may be required to implement this plan.  For example, similar to New York City, one solution might be to encourage all municipalities subject to the plan to adopt changes to their local zoning and building codes to set the base elevation at the FEMA map elevations for the portions of the municipalities located in the 2-, 6- and 10- year flood plains.  These changes can be included as part of a broader initiative to encourage local municipalities to adopt more restrictive zoning for flood-prone areas.

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