Severe beach erosion at Fire Island Pines after a December...

Severe beach erosion at Fire Island Pines after a December storm contributed to the decision to place sand bags along the beach.  Credit: Town of Brookhaven

Crews are set to start laying sandbags as soon as this weekend in eastern Fire Island communities where dunes and beaches were washed away last month by a series of devastating storms.

About 10,000 cubic yards of sand from a dredging project on the western part of Fire Island will be shifted east, where it will be used to fill hundreds of bags that will then be stacked up on the shores of summer communities such as Seaview, Ocean Bay Park, Point O'Woods, Davis Park and Fire Island Pines, Brookhaven Councilman Neil Foley said Friday. 

The work will be done by Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Corp. of Staten Island and Hauppauge-based H&L Contracting, both of which are involved in U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dredging projects elsewhere on Fire Island, Foley said. 

The plan is a stopgap measure to protect the hamlets while Army Corps officials seek funding for sand replenishment to stem persistent erosion across the barrier island.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • Brookhaven officials on Friday announced plans to place sandbags along eastern Fire Island beaches damaged by winter storms.
  • Brookhaven will pay up to $500,000 to buy sand from a Staten Island dredging company.
  • The measure is a stopgap plan as U.S. Army Corps of Engineers officials await funding for a sand replenishment project.

“It’s a temporary fix until the Army Corps comes back ... to rebuild the dunes,” Foley said. “The Pines right now has no dunes. They have nothing. If we get another one of these storms, we’re going to lose a dozen homes.”

Army Corps spokesman James D'Ambrosio on Friday referred questions to Brookhaven officials.

The Army Corps on Jan. 26 issued an emergency declaration to expedite evaluations of needed repairs on Fire Island after a succession of storms in December and January wiped out dunes and beaches.

Henry Robin, president of the Fire Island Pines Property Owners Association, said storm damage put the community's 650 single-family homes, 100 co-op units and commercial district at risk.

“The beaches are so vulnerable, we can’t sit there and wait for emergency repairs. We have to do something for a stopgap,” Robin said. “We are in perilous danger of some of those homes falling into the ocean in the next big storm.”

Foley said the plan to place sandbags on Fire Island came out of discussions among officials of Brookhaven, Suffolk and the Army Corps in recent weeks. 

The Brookhaven Town Board voted 7-0 on Thursday to spend up to $500,000 to buy the sand from Great Lakes. 

Sandbags will be placed in eastern Fire Island over the next several weeks to provide a "line of protection" that was lost when ocean waves washed over the barrier island, Foley said. 

The repairs will have to suffice until the Army Corps can start a dredging project on the east end of Fire Island, Foley said, adding he has asked Corps officials to start dredging this fall. Great Lakes crews will be deployed soon in Montauk followed by a project in Florida, Foley said.

Federal officials have said they must secure funding before scheduling dredging on eastern Fire Island.

The Army Corps had initially balked last October when New York Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand asked the agency to authorize an emergency sand replenishment project to repair damaged shoreline in Davis Park, Fire Island Pines and other shorefront areas following a September storm that wiped out wide swaths of beaches. The Corps said then that the damage was not severe enough for federal assistance.

The Corps in December said it would reconsider after Long Island officials said the damage would hinder emergency vehicles, which use the beaches as roads to respond to fires.

Schumer later persuaded the Corps to consider the combination of damage from multiple storms when the agency evaluated the extent of erosion on the island. 

Gov. Kathy Hochul last month announced she would allocate $3 million from state Department of Environmental Conservation funds to pump sand onto eroded beaches at Fire Island, including Fire Island Pines and Cherry Grove.

Separately, she said $2 million from the $4.2 billion Environmental Bond Act would help the Town of Babylon repair a playground and elevate a pavilion foundation at the town's Overlook Beach. The winter storms washed away concrete footings around the playground, leaving the structure at a tilt.

Robin, who has spent summers on Fire Island for 25 years, said he fears the long-term prospects for the island are dwindling. 

“This is not going to protect our beach for years. It's going to, hopefully, protect it for a few months,” he said of the sandbag project.

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