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Environmentalists: Fire Island Breach Is A Gift From Sandy

Fire Island Map After Sandy (credit: USGS)

Fire Island Map After Sandy (credit: USGS)

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Superstorm Sandy

FIRE ISLAND, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — If it’s breached, don’t fix it.

That was the message Citizens Campaign for the Environment (CCE) had for New York lawmakers at a public hearing Wednesday regarding “New Inlet,” a breach created by Superstorm Sandy on Fire Island that has provided a natural flushing of the Great South Bay.

“While Mother Nature dealt a severe blow to our environment during Superstorm Sandy, she has also provided a precious opportunity to reverse years of declining water quality in the bay,” said Adrienne Esposito, CCE Executive Director.

The breach, discovered within the Otis Pike Fire Island High Dune Wilderness, has allowed ocean waters to flush the bay clean after Sandy caused the release of raw and partially treated sewage, fuel oil, gasoline and other pollutants into its already contaminated waters.

According to the 1997 Fire Island Breach Contingency Plan, a breach of the High Dune Wilderness triggers a 45-60 day monitoring period to assess the natural processes for the breach to fill in without assistance. The plan states that if the breach will not close naturally, it will be closed manually. Although the plan was well-intentioned at the time, the CCE contends that it is inadequate under today’s ecologic conditions.

Hearing Chairman Assemblyman Robert K. Sweeney says there are many on both sides of the issue. The main concern voiced about leaving the breach open is flooding on the mainland.

It is not clear when the Department of Environmental Conservation and other agencies would make a decision on the breach.