Editorial: Action now on beach erosion

Mon, 07/29/2013 - 2:00pm

The question is truly epic: How do we protect our shorelines from further damage from the storms that climate experts say are surely on the way? The other question is this: Do we even try?

The question of climate change, to our minds, is mute. You’ll notice we said “climate change” and not “global warming.” Because, clearly, there is something happening to our environment in fairly extraordinary ways. Record heat, mammoth storms, typhoons in one region and drought in the next.

The issue is being looked at locally and globally.

A recent report by Town Planner Jane Weidman, “Block Island Harbors Sea Level Rise Adaptation Study,” illustrates how the town’s infrastructure would be affected by rising sea levels. It’s not too pretty.

“The combination of these factors — higher sea levels and high tides, and the greater frequency of more severe storm surges — will result in greater coastal flooding and erosion, and more widespread property and infrastructure damage,” the report stated.

On our neighboring New England islands, and in other places along the east coast, this is already happening. Homes built too close to the sea are being moved, or are being propped up on stilts, or are being protected by truckloads of sand carted in from other places.

On Block Island, there are bluffs exposed to the sea at Scotch Beach that are so eroded at their base that it looks like they could begin to seriously crumble at any time. How does a town with limited resources shore that up? Is it even possible?

The problem, of course, is not just local. Recent studies have shown that coastal cities such as London and New York may be “doomed” by the end of the century due to melting glacial ice. Studies are underway in Australia and Japan.

We have gone beyond the time for more studies. What needs to be convened, on Block Island, is a serious, determined group of volunteers, experts from all walks of life — including scientists, artists, engineers, farmers — that can begin to itemize what needs to be done, and to research what kind of money is available from the state, the federal government or international agencies that focus on this area of research.

It’s daunting.  But if Block Island is truly one of the last, great, beautiful places — and heaven knows, it is — we need to begin a series of discussions once the summer is done so that we can continue to enjoy our summers in the future.