Steve Bellone: State, feds should close Fire Island breach now

This photo, looking north, shows the new breach This photo, looking north, shows the new breach on Fire Island caused by superstorm Sandy on March 9, 2013. Photo Credit: Doug Kuntz

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Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and leaders of South Shore communities yesterday called on state and federal authorities to close a breach in Fire Island created by superstorm Sandy.

By evening, the state Department of Environmental Conservation started administrative procedures to move quickly if it opts to close the breach, but the agency had not committed to closing the breach or set a deadline, spokeswoman Emily DeSantis said.

The National Park Service and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers agreed to the DEC plan. The three agencies are "closely monitoring and evaluating the data so the team can reach a decision based on science on whether or not to close the breach," DeSantis said in an email.

Bellone spokeswoman Vanessa Baird-Streeter declined to comment on the state plan, saying the county is awaiting more information from the DEC.

Earlier in the day, Bellone pleaded for the breach to be closed. "We've seen flooding in places we've never seen before," he said at a news conference at Shorefront Park in Patchogue. "We need to close the breach."

While the Army Corps would do the work, the DEC must make the request and Fire Island National Seashore, which is part of National Park Service, must approve a permit. Seashore spokeswoman Paula Valentine said the Seashore superintendent "would be on board with" granting the permit if the DEC moves to close the breach.

Supporters of the closure said it would protect communities along the Great South Bay from flooding. Opponents say it's too soon to blame flooding on the cut in the barrier island and that money spent on closing the breach could be applied to shoreline hardening projects such as raising houses.

Carl P. LoBue, senior marine scientist at The Nature Conservancy on Long Island, said there was "some fear mongering that's causing people to make hasty decisions that won't solve the problem."

The flooding is a symptom of higher sea levels along the East Coast and not due to the breach, he said. The open outlet to the ocean is also helping clean up the bay.

"We have been having flooding, but it's not because of the breach," LoBue said. "If it was causing flooding we wouldn't be in opposition" to closing it.

The breach could close on its own, scientists have said.

Bellone yesterday acknowledged differing opinions about the cause of the flooding, but was undeterred in pushing to close the breach.

"This is not an academic debate to the people whose lives are being affected every day and if there is any question, and there no doubt is, about whether the breach is contributing, then the breach needs to be closed," Bellone said.

Islip Town Councilman John C. Cochrane Jr. said residents and businesses were being affected. "We have seen more water in the bay than we're used to and we're seeing it . . . west of that new inlet," he said.

Newsday reported Monday that the cut had fluctuated in size since the storm, but grown dramatically overall.

The northern end of the breach was 276 feet wide when the opening was first measured at the beginning of November and had grown to 616 feet wide by the end of February, the latest numbers available.

The southern opening into the Atlantic Ocean measured 108 feet wide in early November and was 1,171 feet wide by the end of February. It grew by 558 feet between Feb. 20 and 28, according to data provided by the seashore.

Measuring the breach

 


The width of the north and south ends of the breach within the Fire Island National Seashore:

 


North width in feet

Nov. 3-6: 276

Nov. 7-8: 236

Nov. 19-20: 328

Nov. 26-27: 328

Dec. 3-6: 328

Dec. 9-10: 328

Dec. 12-13: 328

Dec. 17-20: 331

Jan. 3-4: 272

Jan. 10-12: 436

Feb. 13-14: 607

Feb. 20-21: 623

Feb. 26-28: 616

 

South width in feet

Nov. 3-6: 108

Nov. 7-8: 144

Nov. 19-20: 170

Nov. 26-27: 623

Dec. 3-6: 347

Dec. 9-10: 334

Dec. 12-13: 427

Dec. 17-20: 564

Jan. 3-4: 521

Jan. 10-12: 475

Feb. 13-14: 827

Feb. 20-21: 613

Feb. 26-28: 1,171

 

Source: Fire Island National Seashore

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