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New inlet proposed in state park to revitalize Great South Bay

Wayne Horsley at the site of proposed engineered

Wayne Horsley at the site of proposed engineered inlet at Gilgo State Park in Babylon on Sunday. Credit: Morgan Campbell

A former Suffolk County legislator and a Stony Brook professor will present a proposal for the creation of an engineered, nonnavigable, storm-gated inlet at Gilgo State Park in the hopes of decreasing water pollution.

Wayne Horsley, a retired regional director of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, said carving out an inlet could be both environmentally and economically beneficial as clamming, once a multimillion-dollar local industry in the 1970s, may return if the health of the Great South Bay improves.

"If we want to bring the Great South Bay back, in short order, the need to increase the flow of water into the Great South Bay is needed because there is just not enough circulation," said Horsley, a Babylon Village resident who served as a county legislator from 2006 to 2013. "That is something this inlet will do. We’re dealing with a piece of property that was once an inlet."

A storm-gated inlet would also be used to prevent flooding by shutting the gate during a hurricane or storm that causes a rise in sea levels.

Charles Flagg, a professor at Stony Brook University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, said a circulation model will look at various parameters, such as how big the inlet would be and other accommodations needed in order to make a significant reduction in pollution in the western part of the Great South Bay.

"Ocean Parkway will cross over the inlet," said Flagg, a Bellport resident.

Horsley and Flagg will make a presentation on Nov. 9 to the Suffolk County Legislature’s environmental, parks and agriculture committee.

Gilgo State Park reopened in April 2019 — after sand was replenished on the severely eroded beach — to off-road vehicles. The park was closed to the vehicles because Atlantic Ocean waters had washed away most of the sand from previous dredging programs, damaged Ocean Parkway, and exposed the foundations of an abandoned U.S. Coast Guard station. Horsley said there is a possibility of getting the station remains removed if an engineered inlet is created.

Horsley said a new inlet would also preserve the sand replenishment work done by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers on portions of Gilgo Beach. A price tag for an engineered inlet will not be determined until the project gets designed, he said.

The concept of a human-made inlet is not a foreign one. When superstorm Sandy caused the Old Inlet breach south of Bellport, officials at the time discussed either letting Mother Nature take its course or closing it mechanically.

Bellport Mayor Ray Fell said the breach is helping to clean up the bay "and if nature decides" to close it, it will.

"It’s a very cleansing result of [superstorm] Sandy as far as the bay is concerned," he said.

The engineered inlet idea came to Horsley in 2018 when he was a member of the Bayman Statue Steering Committee. Horsley and others organized an effort to create a monument depicting bayman to preserve the memory of a once-booming clamming industry. He said the statue, which stands near Argyle Lake in Babylon Village, brings awareness to the need to keep pollutants out of the bay.

Todd Shaw, president of Save the Great South Bay — a nonprofit dedicated to revitalizing the bay — and a Babylon village resident, said he hopes the proposal moves forward.

"It would do an immensely good job of being able to recycle water through the bay," he said.

Streamed meeting

Viewers can visit scnylegislature.us and follow the “Watch Live” prompts or click “Video Broadcast” on the left to watch the 10 a.m. Nov. 9 meeting of the Suffolk County Legislature's environmental, parks and agriculture committee.

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