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Washovers, flooding hit Fire Island again

Flooding in Ocean Beach is shown from the

Flooding in Ocean Beach is shown from the Albatross Restaurant at Bay Walk and Dehnhoff Walk. (Dec. 27, 2012) Credit: James Mallott

As much as 3 feet of water flooded Ocean Beach Village during Wednesday night's nor'easter -- a fate Fire Island officials said could become routine on the barrier island until its Sandy-ravaged dunes are rebuilt and its beaches replenished.

"We're at the mercy of the ocean again," Ocean Beach Mayor James Mallott said. "There's nothing to stop the ocean from washing over, from flooding our streets, time after time after time."

Superstorm Sandy's surge wiped out much of the barrier island's dune structure, turning minor storms into major threats, Mallott said. The fairly mild nor'easter dumped 2 to 3 feet of floodwaters in the village's downtown, he said.

Burma Road, the main access from Robert Moses State Park, was impassable Thursday, officials said, and the area by Fire Island Lighthouse was steeped in 3 feet of water. Several washovers spilled across the island.

Similar storms normally don't bring flooding, Mallott said.

"The bay doesn't drain like it used to drain," he said, citing sand that is clogging Fire Island Inlet. "I don't know if this is going to be the norm now every time we get a nor'easter, that we get 2 or 3 feet of standing water."

There's no evidence the nor'easter reopened the two breaches at the island's eastern end created by Sandy and since closed, said Fire Island National Seashore spokeswoman Paula Valentine. But as each minor storm becomes a major flooding event, houses on mainland Long Island are at risk, said Westhampton Beach coastal geologist Aram Terchunian.

"We haven't had a break," Terchunian said. "This is typically the most dangerous time for us. The whole system has been a bit compromised as a result of Sandy and there's no recovery, because we're in this winter storm cycle."

Terchunian said Fire Island needs "massive infusions of sand" to replenish the beaches and rebuild the dunes.

"These barrier islands are no different than the levies in New Orleans. And if we don't maintain them, then the damage that we're going to see on the mainland is going to be horrific," he said.

He said Suffolk County's post-Sandy use of sand fencing around the now-closed Cupsogue breach helped prevent further flooding Thursday.

But washovers in Smith Point County Park likely contributed to flooding in Mastic Beach, Mayor Bill Biondi said. He said water levels rose to nearly 3 feet on Riviera Drive, before receding Thursday afternoon. No residents were evacuated and no homes were flooded, he said.

Saltaire Mayor Robert Cox said his village is spending several hundred thousand dollars to build 6-foot dunes out of sand bags to shore up its oceanfront for winter. The village's dunes once were 16 feet, he said.

"Sandy's done," Mallott said, "but she's still reminding us that she's been here."

With Deon J. Hampton

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