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Fire Island residents react to revised management plan

A few dozen Fire Island residents Tuesday critiqued at a public forum the first new management plan for the national seashore since 1977.

Bob Palermo, 68, of Patchogue, who has a home on Fire Island, said he backed the National Park Service's bid to rein in overdevelopment -- "as long as it is balanced and fair."

"I know they are trying to clamp down on Fire Island overbuilding and variances, which makes sense," he said.

Yet he was concerned the new plan might go too far. "We were here first. They are trying to tell us what to do."

Palermo spoke at the evening meeting, the first of two, held in Patchogue.

The new plan breaks with the park service's previous strategy by proposing to partner with state and local officials and the barrier island's 17 communities to solve problems, including climate change and rising seas, during the next 20 years.

In the past, the federal agency was criticized as dictatorial and for wrongly assuming the summer communities would wither, allowing it to expand the park by buying more land.

Instead, the number of vacation homes has almost doubled since Congress established the park in 1964, thwarting master builder Robert Moses from paving the middle of the island for a road.

The new report noted the park service failed to restrain development because local officials granted zoning variances over its objections, while Congress, fearing a public backlash, never gave it the funds to condemn property.

This is one of the main reasons the agency now proposes to work closely with all stakeholders to balance recreation with the preservation of natural resources while revising federal zoning rules and setting standards for variances, reviews and noncompliant buildings.

Chris Soller, Fire Island superintendent, said the plan recognized that individual decisions by homeowners and towns could impact the whole island, which is why a collaborative approach was needed.

Several in attendance raised a variety of other concerns about wilderness trails, the breach cut by superstorm Sandy, nudist beaches, access to restrooms and the separate but delayed plan to build dunes on the barrier island.

John Lund, 73, vice president of the Fire Island Association, the main homeowner group, like many had not yet had time to fully assess the 500-plus page report.

"I think he's on the right trail in turning people in the community around and trying to get everybody to work together," Lund, of Sayville, said, referring to Soller.

The park service proposed two other options it does not recommend: continuing current practices and placing more emphasis on restoring and preserving nature.

The second public meeting will be July 25 on Fire Island in Ocean Beach.

Public comments may be mailed or submitted online at The deadline is Sept. 17.

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