Saltaire mulls restoring barrier peninsula

This 2010 aerial photo shows that a peninsula, This 2010 aerial photo shows that a peninsula, once present at the north edge of Clam Pond Cove near the community of Saltaire is no longer there. Photo Credit: Suffolk County GIS

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Saltaire officials have launched a study of the feasibility of restoring a peninsula they say once protected the village from excessive flooding triggered by high tides and nor'easters blowing across the Great South Bay.

The protective sand peninsula -- turned into an island by decades of erosion and pounding storms -- used to originate at Coffey Point, on the eastern end of the Fire Island village and arch over Clam Pond Cove.

It began to noticeably disintegrate in the 1970s, said former Saltaire trustee Hugh O'Brien, who has spearheaded the effort to restore the land mass. "This has been mulled about off and on over years, but never seriously," O'Brien said. "But given recent flooding we've had since [superstorm] Sandy, it's become much more serious."

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Village officials have said the erosion of the peninsula has coincided with increased flooding during even small storms. And during Sandy, most of the village's flooding came from the bay, not the ocean, which might not have been the case had the peninsula been intact, O'Brien said. Without that protective buffer in place, unbroken bay tides crash straight into the village, he added.

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"What happens now is [waves] come in, and they flood directly into the village," O'Brien said. "If we were able to re-establish the peninsula, most of that would be mitigated and wouldn't happen."

This spring, the Saltaire village board approved $7,000 for Land Use Ecological Services, an environmental consulting group based in Medford, to conduct an environmental study and determine the "regulatory feasibility of reclamation of the Clam Pond Cove peninsula."

Kelly Risotto, a senior ecologist for the firm, said their study will determine whether eelgrass is growing where the peninsula used to be, and it will determine the depth of that area to figure out how much material would be needed to restore the land.

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"The areas of eelgrass all along the South Shore have been shrinking over the last several decades, so they've become very important habitat areas to protect," Risotto said. Eelgrass, Risotto explained, is a "submerged aquatic vegetation" that acts as a protective habitat for fish.

If there is eelgrass present in the study area, "then it's not an area that would be considered for a restoration project, because eelgrass would be something that would be preserved."

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Risotto said the study will be conducted later this summer, when the eelgrass population is at its peak. O'Brien estimated the project could cost at least $1 million, which he said the village would try to bond.

The village would also have to secure permission for the restoration project from both the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the Fire Island National Seashore. No permit applications have been submitted to the DEC on the project, agency officials said.

Officials from FINS did not return calls seeking comment.

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