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Letters: Breach: To fill or not to fill?

A breach in Fire Island is shown. (Dec.

A breach in Fire Island is shown. (Dec. 20, 2012) Credit: Doug Kuntz

Newsday says the breach at Fire Island's Old Inlet will "jump-start a healthier Great South Bay" ["Don't rush to plug breach," Editorial, Feb. 3].

However, breaches can also affect barrier island communities by moving sand in new directions, destroying beaches and homes. Fire Island, with almost 4,000 homes, and tourists from around the world, is one of Suffolk County's major economic assets.

If we wait too long to fix this breach, we may not get a chance to fix it. In the short term, the Great South Bay may benefit from an influx of clean ocean water. Long term, life isn't that simple. Only better sewage treatment and control of pollution from automobiles will restore water quality in the bay. And it will cost billions, as our experience on Long Island Sound has shown.

There is much expert advice to close the breach now. The Army Corps of Engineers, for example, says that any environmental benefits from flushing the bay and increasing its salinity have already happened. Allowing it to remain open simply invites starfish and other ocean predators to take up residence in the bay, and alter the habitat in ways not yet understood.

Newsday is encouraged by the fact that so far the inlet seems to have stopped widening. But in winter, with the potential for another nor'easter, this could change quickly. The breach should be closed forthwith.

Gerard Stoddard, Manhattan

Editor's note: The writer was the president of the Fire Island Association from 1987 to 2011.

Newsday's editorial is correct. For four generations, my family earned a living from the Great South Bay. The bay now produces no clams, brown tides are the norm, and sea life is decimated. The bay bottom appears to be dead.

Before the construction of the Ocean Parkway, clean and nutrient-rich sea water entered the bay near Gilgo and Hemlock coves, and the richest clam beds were in Copiague, Lindenhurst and Babylon.

I completely agree that the breach should remain open and studied. It is the only chance that sea life will return to the Great South Bay. It will flush out pollutants and enable oxygen and nutrient-rich salt water to reach farther west. A cleaner bay will result. Over time, sea life will return.

Additionally, after superstorm Sandy, the ocean is close to the Ocean Parkway near Gilgo and Hemlock coves. I believe that a lock system, similar to that used in Shinnecock, would enhance the flow of tides to the western area of the bay, bringing that area clean, oxygen-rich salt water. The locks could be closed in case of storms or extremely high tides. This would keep bay-front homes safe, and would permit vessels easy access to the Atlantic from western Suffolk towns.

Kenneth Steiger, Babylon

There is no doubt that the environmental impacts attributable to Sandy on the ecology of the Great South Bay will need to be monitored for years to come. However, your editorial supporting a wait-and-see option regarding the new Fire Island breach, and the establishment of ocean dune stability, is cavalier at best and foolhardy at worst.

Changes in salinity and the flushing out of pollutants may actually worsen the ecological richness of the Great South Bay because of the very influential physical parameter of pH and ocean acidification.

No breach associated with any barrier island system is stable, and instead of waiting for the threat to increase, state officials need to pull their heads out of the sand.

John T. Tanacredi, Oakdale

Editor's note: The writer is the chairman of the Department of Earth & Marine Sciences at Dowling College.