U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials Wednesday identified three breaches on Fire Island -- none close to populated areas -- that ultimately will need to be closed, though they said it is too early to say when the work will be done or how much it will cost.
The breaches, one about 546 yards west of Moriches Inlet, the second east of Smith Point County Park and the third at Cupsogue Beach, were found after Corps officials on the ground and in helicopters Wednesday began the process of assessing Sandy's toll on the Long Island coast.
"Oh wow, it's a wide open inlet now," said Joseph Vietri, the Corps' North Atlantic Division chief for planning and policy, as his helicopter passed over the breach west of Moriches Inlet. "This did not exist previously."
Vietri, who is stationed at Fort Hamilton, Brooklyn, said it has long been New York State policy to close any breaches in the South Shore barrier beaches. That is what will happen with those caused by Sandy, which brought devastating tidal surges. To let the breaches become permanent, he said, would upend life for homeowners, the insurance industry, and town and local governments.
"Everything is tied to a system that is known," Vietri said. "When you have these breaches, you have an unmanaged system."
Vietri said he believes that Suffolk County is working to fill the gashes that Sandy left on the barrier beaches and that the Corps will only become involved at the request of local governments. How long the work will take and how much it will cost is yet to be determined. Vietri said federal involvement is likely.
"Ultimately, it's going to require a much larger operation," than local governments have the means to mount, he said.
Not since the winter of 1992 at the west end of Dune Road in Westhampton Beach has there been a breach like those Sandy made, Vietri said. Prior to that, there was one in 1980 near Cupsogue County Park, which is at the far west end of Dune Road. Before that, there were multiple breaches in a 1962 storm.
From the air, the scope of Sandy's catastrophic impact on developed coastal areas was clear. Along the South Shore from Fort Hamilton to Moriches Inlet, where the helicopter veered inland, are mile after mile of flooded and collapsed homes, streets buried in beach sand and debris, and washed-out roads.