Sandy's Cupsogue breach nearly closed

Sand is being pumped out from Moriches inlet

Sand is being pumped out from Moriches inlet as bulldozer works to fill in the Fire Island breach near Cupsoque State Park. It's one of three breaches that cut through the island when Sandy came ashore. (Nov. 26, 2012) (Credit: John Roca)

One of superstorm Sandy's biggest marks of destruction is disappearing.

By Friday, a 1,500-foot breach that formed near Cupsogue County Park in Westhampton should be closed, shutting off ocean access to the Great South Bay that was created when the storm slammed the shore Oct. 29.

Since Nov. 18, 20-person crews have worked three shifts a day, round-the-clock, to fill the cut in the barrier island.

When finished, crews will have moved, leveled and graded 180,000 cubic yards of sand to fill the hole that formed east of Moriches Inlet, said Shewan Bian, a project engineer with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which is overseeing the work.

By day, birds flock to the scene, searching for food. By night, lights illuminate the area like a mining city.

A cutter head dredge called Illinois is anchored nearby in the Atlantic and connected to about 4,500 feet of piping that stretches under water, over the beach and to where water now flows but once did not.

Water and sand is sucked up from Moriches Inlet, piped to the breach area and pushed into the water.

About 30 percent of the mixture is sand and 2,000 cubic yards are deposited each hour, the equivalent of 200 truckloads, said Stuart Hilgendorf, site manager for Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Co., the Illinois firm doing the work.

The mixture is cheaper, faster and more efficient than trucking in and dumping sand, which can disperse more easily.

"Sand pumped hydrologically with water stays around longer," he said.

Another breach near Smith Point County Park is also being worked on by the Port Jefferson firm Village Dock and should be closed within two weeks, corps spokesman Chris Gardner said.

The National Park Service is assessing whether to close a breach in the wilderness area of Fire Island National Seashore.

The work at Cupsogue and Smith Point was fast-tracked because state and federal officials in the 1990s crafted a Breach Contingency Plan allowing work to begin within weeks, rather than months.

While the plan is updated and discussed yearly, this is the first time it has been activated. Before the plan, it could take up to 10 months to get the proper permits, contractors and plans in place, Gardner said.

"The longer it took, the breach itself kept growing and growing, increasing the costs, the time to close, the amount of sand needed," he said.

In addition to closing the breach, the work has another benefit: "The sand that's coming out of the inlet will improve navigation because it's taking sand out of the channel," Gardner said.

The corps and the New York Department of Environmental Conservation will split costs, with the federal agency covering 65 percent and the state picking up the remainder.

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