2006-06-16 / Columnists

On The Beach

To Dune Or Not To Dune: Whose Question Is It?
With Beverly Baxter

BEVERLY BAXTER Seeing Martin Ain out on the civic circuit recently can only mean one thing. Martin Ain is mad. Very mad.

Nine years after he, along with several other beachfront homeowners who reside between Beach 138 Street and Beach 142 Street, prevailed in having dunes installed on the beach to protect their homes, the dinning debate as to whether the dunes should remain is being raised by a group who call themselves The Concerned Residents. They feel the issue and fate of the dunes is within their domain to decide.And theywant the dunes removed.

It's getting nasty. Very nasty. And all too personal. While some of us may have an oceanfront home with a front-row view of the ocean, we all live on a barrier island. Unfortunately, many of us may not know what that means. In a sense, that's quite understandable. After all, I'm sure there aren't too many among us who possess doctorate degrees in Engineering or Beach Conservation. What we do have are civic groups comprised of well-meaning individuals who serve because they are truly concerned about where they live. For most, their motives are pure and are not couched in other self-serving objectives.

In 1997, after pleading their case and concerns, a group of beachfront homeowners, who are directly impacted by what happens on the beach,formed an allianceand made a donation to the NYC Parks Foundation in exchange for the construction of dunes on the beach. The Belle Harbor Property Owners Association, the civic group representing the area where the dunes were constructed, were against the appearance of dunes on the beach...and even more against the way in whichthe decision to dunewas carried out. Accusations, like the sand itself, swirled.

Those who are fierce in their objection to the dunes have a myriad of reasons; and even if their opposition isn't based on any scientific data, their reasons are to be respected. Personally, having grown up on the beach where I many times witnessed the horror when the ocean's fury turns into an unwelcome house-guest, I can bring to the argument a different purview than one who may have not had direct experience with what that entails. Their argument may simply be one of aesthetics. After all, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and one man's dune grass may be yet another man's weeds. Ora location scout's idealbackdrop for an H & Mclothingcatalog photo shoot.Or, the argument could be one of mere inconvenience. Some may resent having to walk a little further on an upward incline. Some say it's a matter of safety. They can't watch their children from the road. And still otherssay it's a sanitary issue, claiming that rats, who are normallyfound near towhere there's garbage, will suddenly change their appetite and decide they prefer dune grass instead;Mosquitoes will breed, thus causing an outbreak inthe West Nilevirus;Dogs and teenagers will do their thing in the dunes (even though federal law mandates that dunes be fenced and it's a federal crime to walk onto them)...the list of grievances goes on and on.

Then, there is the issue of paranoia and resentment by those who have to walk to the beach against those who have a front-row seat from their dining room window. The have not's against the haves who suspect the haves of having an ulterior motiveof using Piping Plovers and dunes as a way to privatize their alreadyprivate, and envied, view.

Although I may have a clear understanding that Piping Plovers nest near the shoreline, near to where there is food and only onalready quiet beaches where there are neither people nor activity; and that dunes, by their very nature, have a specific function in that their root systems act as a kind of "wire-mesh" anchoring the sand to the beach and as a barrier of protection between the ocean and the homes, I can still respect the fact that othersstill mayneither share my viewnor agree with scientific fact. We have a problem amongst us and there is no resolution in sight. The issue will continue to drive acontentious wedge through the communityas long asit is emotionally driven and decided upon by“lay people", neighbors,who comprise a civic association.

Perhaps our issue is not with each otheras an“us" against "them"; but rather "us", all of us whoare blessed enough to live on this barrier beach, against the politicians whom we elect to serveUS and the agencies that have the expertiseand are encumbered with the task to decide how best to protect the beach. Unfortunately, for all of us, we have been miserably served.It's political. While neighborsbehave badly as they are pitched against one another, politicians run for the corners andwatch irresponsibly as the sordid drama unfolds; or they hold their finger in the air to see which way the political wind blows. They aremore than willing to watch as their constituents fight one another; or worse, make a reckless decision,that theymay even know to be reckless,based on votes. We should not allow them to get away with this dereliction of their duty. Instead,as neighbors, we should be humble enoughto admit thatthis issue should not be ours tofight and make; as well as besteadfast in our insistence that we hear from the experts. Beach erosion is like a cancer. Leftuntreated, it spreads. It eatsand erodes away at our shoreline. Like an illness, we wouldn't leave the decision on how to treat it withthe lay community; but rather, we would seek the best possible advice that the scientific community has to offer.While those who live on the oceanfront are directly impacted, we areall affected. To think otherwise, isnaive, at best, and staggeringly arrogant, atits worst.

During the last nearly 10 years, the dunes have grown. As the dune grass grows, it attracts and keeps the sand on the beach; thereby,growing the beach and acting as a buffer between the ocean and the homes. Yes, they must be maintainedfrom debris and to provide beach access.At the recent official beach-opening ceremony, members of the Concerned Residents group rallied the elected officials who were in attendance for the ceremony and brought them to tour thedunes along B.138 and B.142 Streets; and at that time, the dunes had not yet been prepared and maintained for the season. Their argument about access and maintenance was rather premature. The dunes have since been groomed and more access has been provided.

The D.E.C. (Department of Conservation), the agency endowed with the expertise to make a determination on how to protect the beach,will soon render its recommendation as to whether the dunes have been functioning in the manner in which they were intended.As we drive home, afterour long day's journey into night, let's check our egos at the bridge and embrace each other for being lucky enough to live here. For if we continue to function in the manner in which we havebeen behaving, the protection we will also need will no longer be fromjust the ocean's wrath, but from our own.

***For more information, contact the American Coastal Coalition or S.O.S. (Save Our Shores).

***See you...On theBeach!

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