Fire Island National Seashore has received a federal grant for about $1 million to study options for the breach that formed in a wilderness area when superstorm Sandy struck last year.
The environmental impact statement work is to begin in January. While such studies can take as long as three years to complete, seashore Superintendent Chris Soller said he hopes to fast-track the process.
Soller said the environmental impact statement will evaluate several options for the breach, including monitoring and closing it immediately if it appears to pose a danger. Another option is to make it a permanent inlet, but that probably will be discounted because the breach is in a protected area. Another approach would be to let nature run its course to see whether the breach stays open or fills in naturally.
"We're divided between two camps, really," Soller said. "One is close it. One is don't do anything, leave it alone."
The storm cut inlets in three spots on Fire Island. Two were closed. The remaining breach, near a site called Old Inlet, is in a wilderness area where park officials try not to disturb the environment with mechanical equipment or other activities.
The grant was awarded by the Department of Interior using Sandy aid money.
Not long after Sandy hit on Oct. 29, 2012, county and local officials, as well as Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), pushed for the breach to be closed, saying it was the only option if there was potential to cause additional flooding in communities along the Great South Bay. Environmentalists countered that flooding was the result of high water levels in the region and not the breach.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation asked the Army Corps of Engineers to make arrangements to close the breach, but will not request closure work unless a threat appears.
While the shape and size of the breach has fluctuated in the past nine months, the amount of water moving in and out has remained stable. And about 8 percent of the water flowing in and out of Great South Bay is coming from the inlet, Stony Brook School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences Professor Charles Flagg said.
Last week, Flagg and other researchers reported that the breach appeared to be relatively stable, has improved nearby water quality and is not putting South Shore communities at risk.
Proponents of keeping the breach open say it has improved water quality and fishing. But Soller said, "It's not a silver bullet to solve all problems in the bay."
Soller plans to discuss the breach and the Environmental Impact Statement Saturday at a meeting hosted by Bellport resident Thomas V. Schultz.
Other scheduled speakers include Flagg, Stony Brook marine sciences Professor Christopher Gobler, Peconic Baykeeper president Kevin McAllister, Brookhaven Town Chief Environmental Analyst Anthony L. Graves, Bellport Village Waterfront Commission chairman Joseph Gagliano and DECs director of marine resources Jim Gilmore.
The public meeting will be from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in the Bellport Middle School auditorium, 37 Kreamer St.