The devastation caused to Plumb Beach this weekend by the remnants of Hurricane Ida was “No surprise,” according to members of Sheepshead Bay/Plumb Beach Civic Association and experts. As recently as January, officials from the community, city, state, and federal agencies convened at the Plumb Beach bathhouse to discuss protection of the increasingly dangerous bike path and the threatened Belt Parkway. The problem is greater, though, affecting the ecology and wildlife of the entire area.
The meeting, called by Congressman Anthony Weiner to survey nature’s threat, ended with calls for solutions. At the time, the surging waters appeared to be passing underneath the bike path. Water soaked the grass adjacent to the highway, suggesting that erosion was occurring beneath the Belt Parkway as well, undermining its stability. While SBPB Civic proposed a plan to shore up the coast and add more sand and rocks underneath the bike path to strengthen it, nothing has happened.
Dr. Norbert P. Psuty, a coastal geomorphologist at Rutgers University who has studied sediment transfers at Plumb Beach for several years, says the solution needs to go beyond the bike path and be as far-reaching as the effects of sand migration.
“I think there’s more to this [than controlling erosion to the bike path],” Psuty says. “This is an area with no natural sand supply coming in.” He says that as tides pull out the sand there’s no way of replenishing the beachfront naturally. Worse yet is where the sand is going.
“The negative impact is far to the east, going across the beach and settling in the wetlands,” Psuty says. By filling in the wetlands, the pileup destroys southern Brooklyn’s protection from floods and storm surges, and eliminates acres of habitat for birds and other wildlife in New York City’s most important ecological reserve.
Damage has spiked since 1992, when government authorities shored up the beach with tons of sand. Today, almost all of that sand is gone and smothers the wetlands to the east, illustrating why a simple “dump-it-and-forget-it” plan is not only ineffective, but dangerous.
Psuty says the solution must include tracking the sand and knowing exactly where it goes and how much of it goes there. He proposes an active management program that looks at areas of erosion and returns it, creating a sort of conveyor belt of sediment.
“In the long term, you need some sort of sediment recycling program,” he says. “A sort of quasi-equilibrium.”