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Letter to Editor: Don't Close the Fire Island Breach at Old Inlet

An organization says fill-in not good for beach, bay or residents.

Dear Editor,

I saw your article on the Fire Island breach and thought you may be interested in the group "Save the Great South Bay," who has experts saying that the breach may actually benefit the surrounding area.

Here is the press release released this week from the group:

Artificially Closing Breach at the Old Inlet could Prevent The Bay From Cleaning Itself, say Local Experts

Save The Great South Bay, a Long Island advocacy group composed of marine biologists, fishermen, baymen, boaters, restaurant owners, and local citizens, have been campaigning to prevent the closure of a breach at the Old Inlet.

The breach, created by Sandy, according to data collected by The Nature Conservancy, Stony Brook University, and independent marine biologists, has shown that the reopening of the Old Inlet is flushing the bay, bringing in clean water, fish, and other marine life.

In the next several days, the commissioner of the New York State Department of Conservation, Joseph Martens, will decide whether or not to close the breach of the Old Inlet.

Senator Charles Schumer is on record, since November 19, that the breach should be closed. While this is but a small line item in the number of projects the Army Corps of Engineers will be taking on in the $4.5 billion allotted to rebuild the shorelines, they seem inclined to fill the breach as well.

Why are we undoing the one thing that Sandy did that is actually helping the environment –the breach at the Old Inlet – despite all the science, while no one is paying attention to situations like Bay Park, where many millions of gallons of semi treated sewage is killing everything, and will be for a long time?

What are our priorities? We can save the Great South Bay and other waters. But we need a sustainability plan. We owe it to future generations to fix the bay.

Stuart F. Gruskin, New York State Chief Conservation and External Affairs Officer The Nature Conservancy, is one of the many experts Save the Great South Bay cites to makes its case.

In a January 18 letter to The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Gruskin writes, “At a standing room only public meeting on December 1, there was overwhelming public opposition to the artificial closure of the breach. The general public, and many different constituencies, recognize that in this case nature has provided us with an important benefit, and there are compelling reasons to take advantage of that.”

The full letter, with detailed information about the breach at the Old Inlet, can be found on the group’s Facebook page. There are many other research documents here as well.

Those wishing to join the Save the Great South Bay group are encouraged to go to this site. The breach and getting the NYS Department of Conservation to make the right decision is issue one, but revitalizing the bay will take a lot of collective effort over a long time.

Save the Great South Bay is a group of concerned citizens who grew up by the bay, live by the bay, clammed, fished and swam in its waters, took a ferry or a clam boat across to Fire Island, sailed or boated on it.

The group was formed to save The Great South Bay of Long Island from further neglect -- seepage from septic tanks, lawn fertilizer, and road run off – while simultaneously reintroducing clams, oysters, fish. and healthy marine habitats. We believe that a clean bay is good for the economy and is our legacy for future generations.

Learn more about its efforts at this site.


Marshall Brown

Save the Great South Bay

noelfeustel January 26, 2013 at 02:43 PM
Having wonder lifelong personal memories growing up on the Great South Bay, this article concerning keeping the new inlet at Old Inlet open resonates with good common sense. The bay has turned more stagnant and less hospitable over the past six decades due to overbuilding coupled with wetlands mismanagement. This group deserves commendation and encouragement, they are addressing an issue of utmost importance, a healthy bay ecosystem. I look forward to further updates on their progress as well as involvement in the cause. In 2003, a study was done on the feasibility and projected impact of cutting a new inlet just west of the Fire Island Lighthouse. New ideas such as this, coupled with keeping the new easterly cut, need well thought out independent exploration by marine scientists, not clueless politicians. Super-storm Sandy was horrific, but has resulted in outside the box thinking on how best to achieve a cleaner bay.
Caroline Naluai January 26, 2013 at 02:55 PM
I agree - the breach should be left alone. The area is called Old Inlet, because there was an inlet there. I believe it was filled in by the hurricane of 1938. I would love to see the bay returned to a condition that is better for the environment, and so it should be a no brainer to leave the breach alone. What is the logic for refilling it, when the the benefits of leaving it as are so clear?
Archie Bunker January 26, 2013 at 04:53 PM
The logic is for closing the breach is to protect properties and homes located on or close to the shore line such as the moriches and mastic area. Some areas are heavily populated. The barrier island offers protection from flooding on the mainland when there are storms. By leaving the breach open, it provide easier access for the atlantic to flow in and flood the mainland
Marshall Brown January 26, 2013 at 06:28 PM
We are delighted that people hearing about the breach at The Old Inlet, and believe with us that The NYS Dept of Environmental Conservation must not close it. The people on our Facebook Group www.facebook.com/groups/savethegreatsouthbay have today almost 350 members -- marine biologists who study the bay and who seek ways to heal it, baymen, fishermen, boaters, locals from all the communities that ring the Great South Bay -- Babylon, Bayshore, West Islip, Oakdale, West Sayville, Sayville, Bayport, Blue Point, Patchogue, Bellport, Brookhaven -- and from the many around the country who grew up on the Great South Bay's shores. It is our unanimous conclusion that the breach 1. Is flushing and cleaning the Great South Bay 2. Poses no additional flooding risk 3. Is a boon to fishermen, clammers, boaters and the whole South Shore. A healthy bay is good for our economy. We support The Nature Conservancy's Shellfish Restoration Program http://www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/regions/northamerica/unitedstates/newyork/explore/li-great-south-bay-shellfish-restoration.xml. It has seeded 7mil cherrystones into the bay the last three years. Today millions of gallons are being filtered by the clams and their spawn, but the bay is a big place. The reopening of The Old Inlet was the one gift left to us from Hurricane Sandy. The bay is flushing in less than 40 days, versus 100 before. Keep it open. We will all benefit.
Rita Palma January 26, 2013 at 09:03 PM
Thank you Marshall, for taking this important issue on. So, who do we write and call to keep the breach open? Are there any meetings on the issue on the horizon?
noelfeustel January 26, 2013 at 11:37 PM
Historically, if one was standing on the western tip of Fire Island in 1930, you could walk 50 miles east, all the way to Southampton, there were no inlets. Moriches Inlet broke through during a 1931 storm, Shinnecock Inlet breached in the Hurricane of 1938. Our coastline is in constant flux. When my father built our Fire Island house in 1955 (bringing all the materials over to Saltaire by sailboat), he had a realistic attitude concerning storms--"When the "big one" comes again, this place will all hopefully float away in one piece". He bought the highest piece of property available in the village--smart move, we were one of the few non-flooded spots during Sandy. Nothing is permanent in life...... He grew up in Babylon, well tuned to the vagaries of our bay, a very wise man. Too many folks nowadays do not appreciate this dynamic coastal system, feeling that it is tameable, which certainly is not the case.
Marshall Brown January 27, 2013 at 12:47 AM
Hey Rita, Good question! The man who is to make the final call is the Commissioner of The NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, Joseph Martens. Looking at his bio, he seems like someone who can impartially view this issue on the scientific and environmental merits and do the right thing. There must be enormous political pressure on him, however, to allow Sen Schumer and the Army Corps of Engineers to have their way, as destructive in fact as that would be for the bay and for residents of the South Shore. His office has instructed that he be reached through his web link at http://www.dec.ny.gov/about/243.html.
Perry Kinkaide January 28, 2013 at 01:51 PM
"Save the Bay" resonated well before Sandy, the Inlet was a silver lining. Please listen - let nature have her way!
Marshall Brown January 28, 2013 at 02:00 PM
I started my organization five weeks before Sandy, as it happened. I was shocked, coming back to a High School Reunion after 35 years, to see what had become of the bay, and began with supporting The Nature Conservancy's brilliant and important shellfish restoration program, which has already seeded 7000000 cherrystone clams in the bay over the past three years so that they could spawn and start to filter the bay and clean it. http://www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/regions/northamerica/unitedstates/newyork/explore/li-great-south-bay-shellfish-restoration.xml . Then of course Sandy hit, and our focus shifted to the matter at hand -- taking on the people in power who would continue the tradition of gross mismanagement of this common public resource by making sure their rich patrons with their fancy beach side homes get what they want while the bay suffers for it. That's why they scream that the Old Inlet is causing flooding on one hand and dismiss the scientists on the other, who unanimously state that the breach is a boon to the bay and The South Shore. If anyone claims the Old Inlet is causing flooding, please ask them to cite their experts. They have none.
Vito January 28, 2013 at 02:17 PM
What seems like not many years ago, but is probably almost 50, I recall sitting on the rocks at Democrat Point and hearing water splash under the jetty. Now, the beach extends almost a mile west of the point. This and major shoaling has made fire island inlet far more congested. During this same period algae blooms, worsening water quality, a dramatic loss of shellfish, and other problems have become increasingly worse in the bay. I hope the increased flow through this "old" new inlet, and some meaningful consideration of what to do with the fire island inlet turn this trend around. Thanks for the efforts Mr. Brown and others!
noelfeustel January 28, 2013 at 02:55 PM
Vito-- You missed a meal! Below your dangling toes were also some of the most succulent mussels ever to be tasted. We often as kids would go surfing on our longboards by the jetty. Afterwards bringing clumps of these delightful morsels for dinner back home, coupled with spaghetti. Clam Pond Cove was also filled with its namesake, as well as scallops in October. Today two of these three seafood hard-shells are a memory. The DEC forbids clamming from May till October in the cove. The seasonal palaces that now line that shoreline have huge cesspools, infusing the bay with pollutants..... "Prozac Clams Casino", hardly an appealing appetizer. Dual, well functioning inlets, east (Old Inlet) and west (next to the lighthouse) on Fire Island cold help reverse this bay water quality deterioration. Now is the time to act to make this dream a reality.
rob January 28, 2013 at 03:30 PM
Sandy may have been the proximal cause of the breach, and perhaps the last straw, but certainly not the only cause. For many decades, Fire Island has been adjusted by nature and by different groups moving and adding sand and trying to prevent this day from coming. When we were kids we joined in hauling old dead Christmas trees to stave the dunes and I recall lots of earth moving vehicles trying to manage the land. When I hear people like Schumer and others thinking they have a clue about what is best, I fear for the island and its heritage. This needs to be kept in the hands of people who understand the geology and ocean not politicians quick to jump to conclusions. Those who built there have always known they were in jeopardy. They can't claim this is a surprise or that their land wasn't always rented. You can't fix this with artificial barriers, if you try, you will only send our problem down the coast.
Marshall Brown January 28, 2013 at 05:45 PM
The nature of a barrier beach is to shift and change, Inlets open and close over the centuries, Fire Island is pushed ever northward. These are forces larger than man, and if we don't respect them, we will destroy our coastline, and face ever worse flooding in the future. Bring back the shellfish beds and eel grass, the marshes. A restored marine environment in the bay is our best protection against future storms, and of that we can be assured. Governor Cuomo' s NYS2100 Commission specifically endorses the use of shellfish beds, marshes and eel grass beds as strategy to reduce coastal flooding. This would help in New Orleans too and groups down there are pushing it. The bay can sustain us, we just need to make it sustainable.
George S January 28, 2013 at 07:35 PM
Sorry, Chris K - according to the scientists who are researching this, the new inlet does NOT make it easy for the Atlantic to flow in and flood the mainland. These studies show that a healthier bay can DECREASE the amount of flooding in future storms. The politicians and engineers have had their way for too long with disastrous consequences so far. Let's let science have a turn.
George S January 28, 2013 at 07:45 PM
I think noelfeustel, you should go back a decade further in history. There you will find nine inlets that were navigable at high tide - before Robert Moses closed them in building Ocean Parkway.
Rita Palma January 28, 2013 at 08:59 PM
DEC Commissioner Joseph Martens e-mail is joemartens@gw.dec.state.us Marshall, do you think it would be worthwhile for all who logged statements in support of keeping the breach open send these comments to Mr. Martens? I plan to send him (at least) one and ask for a reply. I would like to see if the DEC is offering a canned response to our concerns, or will they put some thought into our comments? I know there are great organizations supporting the cause with volumes of research and science. Couple that with strong public commentary (the voters) and we could encourage the powers that be to rethink their position.
Marshall Brown January 28, 2013 at 09:42 PM
Rita, you are the best! Let me share with you and with the Patch readers two documents I received today, one from The Peconic Baykeepers, www.peconicbaykeeper.org and the other from The Citizen's Campaign For The Environment www.citizenscampaign.org, and further let me add to that list the letter that The Nature Conservancy wrote the DEC, all making the case that The Old Inlet be left alone. Also of note is the Coastal Council Assocation, how are part of the unanimous scientific opinion that the Old Inlet remain open. 1. Citizens Campaign Memorandum of Support: https://www.facebook.com/groups/Savethegreatsouthbay/436369613095764/ 2. Peconic Baykeeper Op-Ed: https://www.facebook.com/groups/Savethegreatsouthbay/436337083099017/ 3. The Nature Conservancy to the NYS DEC: https://www.facebook.com/groups/Savethegreatsouthbay/436337083099017/ 4. The Coastal Conservation Association: https://www.facebook.com/groups/Savethegreatsouthbay/433116793421046/
Judy Mottl (Editor) February 04, 2013 at 01:31 PM
Here's an interesting blog on the subject of why the inlet should remain open: http://milburncreek.blogspot.com/2013/01/new-york-oppose-corps-fire-island.html
HECTOR DELGADO March 23, 2013 at 05:50 PM
I , also, believe that closing the breach will cause more of a headache. Keeping it open will allow area fisherman to get more ''catches''. After all, it be more shell fishing available. And, yes,. Money will be better spent in fixing the infracstrutures of the houses in the damaged area. Future planning of the areas affected will be more economical.


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