Sen. Charles E. Schumer and Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone on Monday called on the National Park Service to allow the Army Corps of Engineers to immediately close a breach in a Fire Island National Seashore wilderness area caused when superstorm Sandy roared ashore Oct. 29.
The breach, in an area known as Old Inlet south of Bellport, is in one of three areas along Fire Island's 32-mile coastline where waves cut through the dunes, allowing ocean water to enter Great South Bay.
The Army Corps began dredging and pumping sand into a breach at Cupsogue County Park on Sunday afternoon, and work closing the cut near Smith Point County Park is expected to begin within days, corps spokesman Chris Gardner said.
The National Park Service is assessing whether to close the Old Inlet breach in the wilderness area. Costs, the impact of bringing heavy equipment into a protected area and the effect on Great South Bay all factor into the decision, Seashore spokeswoman Paula Valentine said.
Leaving the cut open could help circulate water around Great South Bay, improving water quality and shellfishing in the area, she said. But the impact on homes along the South Shore must also be considered.
"It's a bit of a balancing act," Valentine said.
Schumer (D-N.Y.) has said that allowing the third breach to stay open will put South Shore communities at risk of more flooding. With equipment in the area closing the other breaches, he believes the time is right.
"The park service has this ideological view that they should just let the natural process go," Schumer said at a news conference. "I'll take this to whatever level I have to, to get this done."
Valentine said the northern side of the Old Inlet breach shrank from 266 feet to 230 feet between Nov. 5 and Saturday. The southern side of the breach has grown from 108 feet wide to 150 feet in that period.
"Most of the experts believe it is in the process of closing on its own," Valentine said.
Schumer and Bellone said the need is too urgent to let nature take its course.
"Fire Island and this barrier beach is at its most vulnerable point in decades and we have seen the result of a storm that hits our region and the devastating impact it can have on families," Bellone said.
"The fact that these breaches are out there and are open place all of those homes along the South Shore that have been devastated already . . . at greater risk," he said.