An aerial photo shows bulldozers pushing sand into pools of...

An aerial photo shows bulldozers pushing sand into pools of water formed on an eroded Lido Beach, Thursday. (April 1, 2010) Credit: Kevin P. Coughlin

In the wake of what Long Island officials are calling the worst erosion in decades, some towns and state agencies are scrambling to prepare beaches for the summer season.

Bulldozers raced Thursday to push sand to bolster Hempstead Town's Lido Beach West. The beach was one of those socked hardest, losing between 55 and 60 feet of sand, leaving only 30 to 40 feet behind.

"We literally can't put all of the towels and blankets out" that were there in the past, said Supervisor Kate Murray. The beach won't accommodate all 200,000 visitors - who bring in $2 million in fees - it typically sees each summer, she said. "We're going to encourage people to go to our other beaches, although they were hit as well," she said.

Because the town's Department of Environmental Conservation permit allows sand replenishment only until April 15, she said, "We have two weeks to do what we can and it's not going to result in a significantly altered look from what we have now."

Gary Kasten, 56, of Oceanside, said he has been going to the beach since he was 3: "In 50 years, I've never seen the dunes beat up like this."

Babylon officials also said this is the worst erosion in decades. In many places, spokesman Tim Ruggeri said, the ocean laps the dunes at high tide. The town says it needs at least 1 million cubic yards of sand. The recession heightens concerns, he said, with more residents staying close to home and using the beaches. But paying for dredging and replenishment is contingent upon Federal Emergency Management Agency money, he said. Thursday, Sen. Charles Schumer called on FEMA to expedite disaster aid. Damages from recent storms could top $100 million for the metropolitan region, Schumer said.

East Hampton Supervisor Bill Wilkinson said town beaches are "severely eroded." But, he said, tough times leave the town in no position to even think about repairs. "There's great hope that Mother Nature will come in and be our stimulus package," he said.

Southampton Village Mayor Mark Epley agreed. "Nature is going to move sand around, and before we start spending a lot of money moving sand around, we'd like to see what happens naturally," he said.

State parks have also suffered. George Gorman Jr., deputy regional state parks director, said sand is being put back on Field 5 of Robert Moses State Park. Ocean currents will carry that sand west to help build Field 4, he said. Gilgo State Park was supposed to open Thursday for four-wheel drive beach fishing, but was postponed because of erosion. The storm left ponded water along the Jones Beach shoreline and officials said it would drain over several weeks.

Storms caused erosion even on Long Island Sound. Oyster Bay's Centre Island Beach lost "a tremendous amount of sand," said town spokeswoman Phyllis Barry. The town hopes tides will bring in enough sand before the beach opens. If not, parts of the beach might be closed off, she said.

Some towns, such as Islip, said previous replenishment projects helped give them cushion this year. Still, the town estimates it needs 138,000 cubic yards of sand at a cost of $3 million. As in other towns, piping plover restrictions mean Islip won't be able to do it before summer.

Islip Director of Emergency Management Rick Gimbl said nature does help but beaches used to have time to recoup. "In years past we'd have one nor'easter for the year; now we're getting three or four a month," he said. "I hope it's not a prelude for this year's hurricane season because these storms are killing us."

With Chau Lam and

Nomaan Merchant

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