An area of erosion at Gilgo State Park believed to...

An area of erosion at Gilgo State Park believed to be caused by the former Coast Guard station, now hauled away, ahead of a dredging project for the Fire Island Inlet that will replenish sand at the park. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

Gilgo State Park officially reopens Friday after crews spent weeks protecting the barrier island beach from erosion by hauling away much of what was left of a 1920s-era U.S. Coast Guard station.

Since mid-October, park workers have removed the foundation and filled 200 truckloads with 18 million pounds of cement rip rap, said George Gorman, Long Island regional director, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.

Also cleared from the site, prized by off-road drivers, anglers, and surfers, were bulkhead ruins and two sand-filled fuel tanks. Crews also sawed a row of pilings down to the water level, he said.

"We’re still doing some work," Gorman said, including cutting down the staving, part of the former wooden boardwalk. "We have reopened the entrance, off and on," he said, ahead of Friday's formal reopening.

Scientists say hard structures — anything from rip rap to a sand-filled bag — can accelerate erosion. On Long Island's South Shore, a series of groins, jetties and similar structures, combined with the way nor'easters and other storms typically scour sand from its beaches, sending it toward New Jersey, have led to decades of sand replenishment projects that often prove far too impermanent.

And Gilgo is a hotbed on Long Island when it comes to erosion.

"The maximum long-term erosion rate was along Gilgo Beach in the location of a now-closed inlet," a 2010 report by the U.S. Department of the Interior and the U.S. Geological Survey found.

Master builder Robert Moses closed an inlet at Gilgo when he built Ocean Parkway down the middle of the narrow barrier island that gives Jones Beach State Park, which lies just west of Gilgo, its name.

The long-term erosion rate at Gilgo's western end was 4.9 meters a year. In contrast, the beach with the highest rate where the winds and seas deposited sand was the western part of Jones Beach State Park, where 20.2 meters a year of sand was added, the report said.

Gilgo has had 13 beach replenishments projects totaling 14,098,861 cubic yards, along 82,000 linear feet, according to the Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, North Carolina.

Those projects had a nominal or budgeted cost of $79 million but a real cost of $162 million, in 2019 inflation-adjusted dollars, according to this database of more than 2,000 post-1923 projects.

Removing the Coast Guard Station debris also makes the park much safer, said Long Island Beach Buggy Association president Klaus Rondinella.

‘You had to be really careful at night," he said. That hazard intensified during the pandemic, he said, as Gilgo drew more visitors, some of whom seemed unfamiliar with the park as well as off-road driving, and thus — tended to get stuck.

"We’re seeing a lot of new people; we don’t want anybody to get hurt," Rondinella said.

The Babylon park last was closed from Aug. 24 to Sept. 3 to restore sand lost to tropical storms Henri and Ida.

Gilgo’s dunes protect Ocean Parkway; rebuilding them after Superstorm Sandy in 2012 damage that cost $33 million and took months. Since then, tens of thousands of cubic yards of sand have been spilled onto Gilgo — but failed to halt the erosion that has periodically closed it.

That erosion even continued during the latest project, allowing the parks department to remove more debris than initially expected, as more of the old Coast Guard station was uncovered, Gorman said, an unanticipated boon he termed "fantastic."

Said Wayne Horsley, former Long Island regional director of the Office of State Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, by email: " … The (ruins) of the Old Coast Guard Station have been a problem since the 1970s and its removal will go far to keep the Park open."

Some remnants of the station, however, will remain. "There is still cement debris rip rap in the water, as well as pilings still in the water. This was never part of the removal project scope," Gorman said.

Both Horsley and Rondinella called for additional improvements at Gilgo, including possibly reopening the former inlet located in the same area where Sandy halved the island in two; to some experts, this suggests it would be wise to let nature have its way.

"Environmentally, it’s a great idea," Rondinella said. He is one of the fans of the breach Sandy carved opposite Bellmore, a small South Shore community north of Jones Beach State Park. It has, he said, "opened up a whole new fishery" in that section of the Great South Bay by allowing the cleaner, more oxygenated ocean water to enter.

The trade-off — less beach for off-road vehicles — has been worthwhile, he said, "though when you have a finite amount of beach, and you suddenly lose some, that hurts."

Horsely and Rondinella also would like to see Gilgo State Park renovated by adding electricity, lighting and air compressors. "Next, State Parks should take a hard look at updating the park complex. Gilgo Park and its users deserve no less," Horsley said.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had planned another beach replenishment project to begin in November and end in March but dredging has yet to start.

In a first phase, the engineers plan to spend $47 million removing sand that chokes Fire Island Inlet, and pouring it at Gilgo and Robert Moses State Park, which lies further east, to reduce erosion. The engineers now expect to start the sand replenishment in mid-to-late December, officials said, as inclement weather and equipment delays kept them from starting last month as planned.

Phase two, when Moriches and Shinnecock inlets will be dredged, is planned for March.

Restoring Gilgo State Park

  • The park officially reopens Friday after crews spent weeks protecting the barrier island beach from erosion by hauling away much of what was left of a 1920s-era U.S. Coast Guard station.
  • The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says work is set to beging replenishing sand in mid-to-late December.
  • The Babylon park last was closed from Aug. 24 to Sept. 3 to restore sand lost to tropical storms Henri and Ida.

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