To Those Who Protest in Montauk

Montauk Point Lighthouse and the Atlantic Ocean
Montauk Point Lighthouse. Photo credit: 146960339Sylvana Rega/iStock/Thinkstock

I want to give a shout-out to all those who have been demonstrating out on the beach in Montauk, hoping to shut down the sandbag sand dune project out there. I mentioned in an earlier article that I felt a kinship with the protesters because in my youth I demonstrated against a beach project and got it to stop, which turned out to be the very worst thing to do as far as saving homes from the sea was concerned.

We had a lot of fun stopping the project. And we had our reasons. But they were wrong reasons.

In the present case, however, I have now come to conclusion that this new demonstration is for the right reasons—not that stopping this project is a right reason—but for the expression of outrage that beautiful Montauk might be ruined.

People love Montauk. I am one. In the summertime, ocean breezes sweep in, push away the heat and wash the town clean. Montauk needs no air conditioning in the summertime.

There is water everywhere, either close by or off in the distance. It is a harbor, a pond, along the arc of the bay, rushing between the jetties leading in to Lake Montauk, pounding on the ocean beaches. There’s water you might not even know. Off the lighthouse is the Rip, a confusing and dangerous melee of choppy water caused by Long Island Sound meeting the Atlantic Ocean. Fishermen know the Rip. Now you do, too.

The variety of water in Montauk mirrors the variety of the land it touches upon. Montauk has forests, woods, hills, sand dunes, beach grass, fields, wetlands, cliffs, swamps, piles of boulders, farmland, pastureland, even scrub pines. And it’s all within a 10-minute drive of wherever you are.

Then there is the history. There’s where Teddy Roosevelt and the Roughriders arrived to spend a summer recovering after the Spanish-American War. There’s President McKinley visiting, the story of an attempt to fly across the Atlantic before Lindbergh—in a dirigible—something never been done. There was an illegal fishing village of 500 people built without permission on land it didn’t own, since swept away. The Rolling Stones were here. Andy Warhol was here. Richard Nixon was here. Rumrunners battled with one another here, while also battling with revenuers. There was a raid on a gambling casino where New York Mayor Mickey Walker put a towel over his arm to look like a waiter, then ran safely away to keep from getting caught.

Montauk is so popular with the fishing community that Montauk holds more fishing records than any other community in the world. And its waves are so loved by surfers that, in a world filled with booming oceans with 30-foot waves, it consistently ranks in the Top 10 best surfing spots on the East Coast.

So what is the demonstration really all about? It is about watching, up close and personal, the temporary defacement of the entire stretch of downtown Montauk. Huge gashes are being sliced into the ground, wooden walkways are rising high in the air, existing beach dunes are being gouged out.

One has to trust that the Army Corps of Engineers knows what they are doing in building this defense against the possible flooding of downtown. Indeed, in the end, just 60 days from now, what now looks like a construction site will be all buttoned back up, the lost dunes restored to how they were back in the 1960s. Underneath will be a foundation of sandbags. It is necessary.

Our demonstrators, I think, are expressing their love for Montauk. Montauk is like a lovely woman. But if you watched her getting plastic surgery on her face to restore what she looked like when young, you’d probably be out front protesting they were ruining her.

Wait until it is over. She should look just fine.

Montauk is a microcosm of the world. You could live here and never go anywhere and think you have seen it all. About the only thing we don’t have is rainforests.

It’s so easy to fall in love with this remarkable place.

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