When Hurricane Sandy swept ashore in October, the historic storm significantly altered the shoreline along Suffolk County's south shore and left a breach at Old Inlet on Fire Island.
Now, county officials are blaming the breach for the increase in flooding experienced by residents in many communities that touch the Great South Bay.
During a press conference held at Shorefront Park in Patchogue Village Wednesday, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone was joined by numerous county, town and village officials and called for the breach to be repaired.
"We want that breach to be closed now," Bellone said. "We've seen flooding in places that have never been flooded before, and I think without question the answer is now that we need to close this breach."
Joining Bellone at the press conference was Brookhaven Town Councilman Tim Mazzei, Suffolk County Legislator Wayne Horsley, Babylon Town Supervisor Rich Schaffer, Islip Town Councilman John Cochrane, Babylon Village Mayor Ralph Scordino, Babylon Village Trustee Tony Davida, Lindenhurst Village deputy administrator Doug Madlon and Lindenhurst Village Emergency Manager Ray Fais.
Bellone acknowledged that it will take time to bring in the necessary equipment to close the breach, and that it is possible the breach will start to close on its own within that duration. However, he urged an immediate need to begin.
He also said that there is a debate over whether or not sealing the breach is the answer, and representatives from nature organizations came to the conference with concerns that this is a misdiagnosis.
Carl LoBue of the Nature Conservancy told Patch before the press conference that his organization feels that there are benefits to the breach and it would be better to prepare lower lying communities on how to deal with more frequent flooding.
Maureen Dolan Murphy of the Citizens Campaign for the Environment said that science is showing that breaches such as these are not the cause of flooding issues like those seen recently along the south shore. A letter to the editor regarding not wanting the breach to be closed was also sent to Patch in January.
Bellone said that he is not concerned with this debate.
"I'm concerned with the residents who live along the south shore who have suffered enough, and if this breach is contributing one iota to that continued suffering, then it needs to be closed now," Bellone said.
According to shoreline position data from the National Parks Service from Feb. 28, the Old Inlet breach is currently 682 feet in length, with a width at the north end (bay side) of 616 feet and a width at the south end (ocean side) of 1,171 feet. This is a slight decrease from the 908 foot length measured in early November, and a width increase from the 276 feet north end and 108 feet south end measurements from the same time.
“It’s common sense we have more water in this bay than we are used to and we are seeing it west of that new inlet,” said Cochrane.
He noted that several waterfront businesses such as Molly Malone’s and Captain Bill’s spent tremendous amounts of money to reopen following Hurricane Sandy but were again closed down this past weekend because of flooding at height of a busy weekend in Bay Shore.
Bellone said that New York State's Department of Environmenal Conservation (DEC) must sign off on the order to close the breach. He noted at in the press conference that there was a debate among the DEC officials as to whether the breach is the cause of the flooding issues, but declined to give more details.
Bellone also did not want to put a time line on how long the breach closure would take due to the number of federal agencies it would go through.
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A Look At Fire Island's Breach at Old Inlet