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Letters: Fire Island protects the mainland

A view of the breach caused by Superstorm

A view of the breach caused by Superstorm Sandy on Fire Island, looking west on March 9, 2013. Credit: Doug Kuntz

Newsday was on the right track with its endorsement of the Fire Island-to-Montauk Point hurricane-protection and erosion-control project to help safeguard the South Shore mainland from future storms ["Surmounting shifting shores," Editorial, April 6].

We applaud that support. And certainly no one can argue with the editorial board's suggestion that the federal funds to repair the damage from superstorm Sandy should be used wisely.

The balance of editorial, however, was very disappointing. Suggesting that the primary goal of restoring Fire Island's dunes and beaches is to "defend people's second homes" ignores the widely accepted role of a barrier island as protection for the mainland. There are more than 27,000 mainland homes in the 100-year flood plain and 4,000 in the 10-year flood plain.

Indeed, an Army Corps of Engineers report submitted to Congress after Sandy documented the critical importance of a healthy beach and dune system to reduce storm risk. Congress then funded the project, confirming its vital importance.

All levels of federal, state and local government closely reviewed and rejected the notion that nature should be left to take its course on Fire Island -- not because they sought to protect the vacation homes on Fire Island, but because they recognized that the do-nothing alternative is not an option.

We find it even more disturbing that the editorial framed the challenge of coastal management as a zero-sum game of either/or choices. Newsday suggests that an agonizing decision looms -- stabilizing "a beloved and iconic place" or devoting available public money to defend the mainland. The reality is that Fire Island, the Great South Bay, and the mainland shore make up one complex system of beaches, dunes, sediments and marshes that must be managed as an integrated whole.

Suzy Goldhirsch, president of the Fire Island Association

Robert Cox, mayor of the Village of Saltaire, Fire Island

James S. Mallott, mayor of the Village of Ocean Beach, Fire Island

Newsday's editorial diminishes the value of protecting Long Island's barrier islands in at least two ways.

By ignoring the public parks along our oceanfront, Newsday has missed a significant economic and social asset of the region. At the ends of Fire Island lie two of our busiest and readily accessible public parks -- Smith Point County Park and Robert Moses State Park. With millions of visits each year, it is difficult to quantify the value of these "people's places." However, one can count the number of summer jobs that have taught thousands of young Long Islanders how the world works outside of the classroom and how to function in it.

Also, limiting its editorial to Fire Island and omitting Jones Island, Long Beach, Montauk and other oceanfront locations further diminishes the value of the barrier island protection efforts. Those beaches and the shoreline lying west of the beach-nourishment project will benefit from the work, as will Jones Beach State Park, Point Lookout, and Babylon and Oyster Bay town beaches.

Ronald F. Foley, Wading River

Newsday says, "Experts say the dunes eventually would re-form on their own. The process is how barrier islands defend themselves against rising sea levels. Fire Island would function perfectly well as a barrier island for the mainland if we just left it to nature."

This is correct. However, the editorial shows an abysmally poor knowledge of history and shoreline drift.

Fire Island has been sand-starved by the groin fields, which are shore-perpendicular structures built to reduce receding of the shoreline. These have essentially stopped the natural flow of sand along the barrier islands from east to west since the 1960s.

We should let nature take its course. Destroy the Westhampton Beach groin fields. After governmental interference caused the problem, it's pretty disingenuous of Newsday to suggest that taxpayers not bear the responsibility to rectify it.

Fred Connolly, Seaview

You write that the plans to rebuild the dunes on Fire Island are a waste of money, saying, "this fix, too, eventually will wash away." You don't know that for a fact.

With every storm, engineers try to determine what works and what doesn't. To have the mindset that a thoroughly studied and vetted project is a waste of money is outdated thinking and unproductive. Under your leadership, Christopher Columbus would never have set sail.

Gene Levy, Fair Harbor

Editor's note: The writer is the president of the Fair Harbor Community Association.