WOODBURY - A debate is brewing over Old Inlet on Fire Island. The inlet is a physical reminder of Superstorm Sandy’s impact on Long Island after the hurricane created a channel, now 856-feet wide, through which seawater pours into the Great South Bay. The question by residents, scientists, environmentalists and government officials is what to do about it: leave the gap as it is for the time being and see what happens, or close it up?
When Sandy hit, Fire Island did what it was supposed to do. The barrier island protected the south shore, but at a huge price. Homes were destroyed, sand dunes were leveled and new inlets were formed.
News 12 Long Island’s Bill Korbel says despite Sandy’s harsh realities, storms have been changing Long Island’s landscape since it was formed by retreating glaciers 10,000 years ago. Korbel says Fire Island is not so much an island as it is a giant sand bar, capable of an ever-changing landscape.
The new inlet, located just west of Smith Point Park, alarmed not only officials but residents who are worried about more flooding. In response, a slew of political leaders have called for it to be closed.
“If another storm the size of Sandy comes through it's going to make it bigger, let more water in and create the potential for more damage to properties along the south shore,” says Legislator Rob Callarco.
Some argue that the inlet is a gift from nature, allowing ocean water to flush out the polluted Great South Bay and causing a nearly miraculous rebirth of marine life. “We've had sea turtles in here, we've had about 10 seals that lived on an island during the winter, fluke on this side of the bay, which you'd never see on this side of the bridge,” says fisherman Mike Busch.
But is the inlet causing more flooding on the south shore? Research by the SUNY School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences indicates that water levels on the south shore since Sandy match patterns in similar areas around the Northeast. The study concludes the inlet is "not responsible for the increased frequency of flooding in the western or eastern Great South Bay."
The final decision on what to do with the breach will be made by the National Park Service along with the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the Army Corps of Engineers. Christopher Stoller, of the National Park Service, says unless there's a proven threat, the agency won’t interfere with what nature has been doing for hundreds of years.