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Trail of erosion from Fire Island storms worries towns

Two slow-moving nor'easters a week apart in October

Two slow-moving nor'easters a week apart in October and storms in November and December lashed the dunes on Fire Island with strong winds and waves caused by high tides. In 2016, a bulldozer moved pipes into place while preparing to rebuild the beach at Seaview. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

A series of harsh autumn storms scoured Fire Island beaches from Saltaire to Point o' Woods, prompting Brookhaven and Islip town officials to seek help from federal authorities to repair damage to dunes on the barrier island.

Two slow-moving nor'easters a week apart in October and storms in November and December lashed the dunes with strong winds and waves caused by high tides, leaving a trail of erosion in the island's popular summer communities. The storms washed away some of the sand restored to the beaches by the United States Army Corps of Engineers' dune replenishment program, which began after superstorm Sandy devastated the region in October 2012.

The area hit hardest by the October storms was a 3.5-mile stretch from Saltaire, in Islip Town, to Seaview, which straddles Islip and Brookhaven, officials said. Those communities are part of the Army Corps' Fire Island Inlet to Moriches Inlet dune restoration project.

Brookhaven Supervisor Edward P. Romaine and his Islip counterpart, Angie Carpenter, in December asked U.S. senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand for federal help. Romaine's letter to the senators said the storms had caused "significant damage" to the dunes.

“We’re worried that this winter will be one of the more severe winters,” Romaine said in a telephone interview, adding the storms caused "several million dollars" worth of damage. “We’re fighting Mother Nature, and we need the professionalism of the Army Corps.”

An Army Corps of Engineers spokesman said in an email the corps had taken "immediate action … to conduct emergency response and recovery activities repairing coastal-storm risk-reduction projects" affected by the storms.

The corps' regional office in Manhattan must file reports on damage caused by the storms to justify authorization of additional expenditures by the corps' Washington, D.C., headquarters, the spokesman said.

The storms also washed over portions of Dune Road in Hampton Bays. Suffolk County began dredging 90,000 cubic yards of sand in early November to repair the damage, but some officials believe 800,000 cubic yards are needed.

Suzy Goldhirsch, president of the Fire Island Association, which represents homeowners and businesses, said damage from the storms was some of the worst since superstorm Sandy. The erosion could hurt vital tourism industries such as ferry service and fishing, she said.

“The big picture is there is a lot of damage from Westhampton to Fire Island Inlet," Goldhirsch said. “All the beaches took horrible hits. The erosion is very serious. The damage is very serious.”

Damage from other storms in recent years caused Brookhaven to spend a total of $6 million in 2018 to reconstruct town-owned marinas in Cherry Grove and Davis Park. 

Romaine said the 2019 storms raised concerns about the impact of erosion on summer tourism. He said dredging in Hampton Bays should be extended west to Brookhaven.

“The nor’easters that we’ve had have really taken a chunk out of the western end of Fire Island,” Romaine said. “There’s fear that there will be a breach and further property damage. ... It’s becoming an annual thing. We are living in a time of more storms, rising sea level and diminishing dunes.”

DUNE DAMAGE

Since superstorm Sandy in October 2012, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Fire Island Inlet to Moriches Inlet Stabilization Project has been restoring dunes in a 19-mile stretch from Robert Moses State Park to Smith Point County Park on Fire Island.

$223.3M: Project cost

Summer 2020: Anticipated completion

1.68 million cubic yards: Sand added through December 2019

7.25 million cubic yards: Sand to be added when project is complete

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