Residents learn latest options for Fire Island breach

Members of the U.S. Geological Survey are headed Members of the U.S. Geological Survey are headed out to the breach at Old Inlet, just South of Bellport Harbor to measure the depth of water and the speed at which it is moving through the cut in Fire Island, which was created during Superstorm Sandy. (Nov. 13, 2013) Photo Credit: Doug Kuntz

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Let it be. For now.

That was the message more than 250 South Shore residents gathered in Bellport on Saturday heard from government officials, researchers and environmentalists about a superstorm Sandy-caused breach in a Fire Island National Seashore wilderness area.

"There are a lot of environmental values that we are seeing, but we have to balance that against the risks of if this breach stays open, if it gets worse, what will happen," National Seashore superintendent Christopher Soller said during the three-hour information session at Bellport Middle School.

The National Seashore recently received a federal grant of about $1 million to study alternative solutions for the breach near Old Inlet, south of Bellport. Options include monitoring it, letting nature run its course, making it a permanent inlet or closing it if it appears to pose a danger to people or property.

"Our recommendation was to continue to live with Mother Nature and not close the Bellport inlet. We are trying to put a name on it," said Joseph Gagliano, chairman of the Bellport Village Waterfront Commission. "If Mother Nature decides to close it, so be it."

Professor Charles Flagg of Stony Brook University's School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences told audience members that the 400-square-meter breach has remained relatively stable, improved nearby water quality and is not threatening communities.

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Professor Christopher Gobler, Flagg's Stony Brook colleague, said levels of nitrogen, brown tide and algae are lower in the Great South Bay due to what they are calling a new inlet. "The new inlet does not appear to be a major contributor to any flooding that has happened in the last year," Flagg said.

The breach was one of three that cut through the dunes along Fire Island's 32-mile coastline during the Oct. 29, 2012, storm, allowing ocean into bay. The Army Corps of Engineers closed breaches at Cupsogue County Park and near Smith Point County Park last year.

After Sandy, several federal, county and local officials called for the Old Inlet breach to be closed to protect South Shore communities from flooding. Environmentalists argued that leaving the cut open could help flush pollutants from the water.

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"If we get a hurricane in this area, all of the South Shore of Brookhaven would be flooded," said Skip Iwanski, of East Patchogue, who wants the breach to be closed, adding it could cause damage and cost more money to fill in. "That breach is like opening another faucet."

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