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Debate Mounts Over Whether To Close Breach On Fire Island

Superstorm Sandy Changed The Area, But Some Say Not All Of It Is Bad

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FIRE ISLAND, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Something has changed dramatically in the waters off Long Island since Hurricane Sandy.

As CBS 2’s Carolyn Gusoff reported Tuesday, fish and wildlife are thriving in the Great South Bay, and scientists have credited Mother Nature’s breach of Fire Island for it all.

The color of the water in the bay is astounding long time boaters.

“The Caribbean,” said boater and fisherman Mike Busch. “It’s blue-green, clear.”

Busch’s underwater camera documented a remarkable rebirth. Clearer water, booming marine life from seals to mussels have been seen in the bay, which was polluted for decades.

“You see the bottom, a lot more fish and wildlife – just an absolute, utter change; the best thing that’s happened to Great South Bay in a generation,” Busch said.

Scientists said the sudden turnaround was a gift from Sandy — a silver lining to a storm which created a breach on Fire Island.

Because of the breach, ocean water now pours into the Great South Bay, flushing it clean.

“It’s a beautiful thing that Sandy gave us,” said Peconic Bay keeper Kevin McAllister. “Water clarity has improved.”

But while some are hailing the new inlet on the east end of Fire Island, there is a great debate over its fate. A chorus of calls has demanded that the breach be closed to protect the mainland from a greater risk for flooding.

“Leaving the breach open is going to create the potential for more severe damage should another storm the size of Sandy — or for that matter, Irene — come barreling through again,” said Suffolk County Legislator Rob Calarco (D-Patchogue.)

The new inlet is even being blamed by residents as far away as Lindenhurst for making their flooding problems worse

“The tides are much more extreme than what they were in the past, ever since Sandy,” one resident said in February.

Scientists with Stony Brook University who have been monitoring water levels said the breach will eventually close on its own, as it has throughout history.

They also said so far, there is no evidence that flooding is any worse on the mainland – at least, not flooding that is caused by the breach.

“It will be a travesty if government spends $20 million — I think the price tag is — to close it,” one expert said. “It will be an absolute boondoggle.”

A decision is expected by the end of the summer on whether the Army Corps of Engineers will close the breach or let nature take its course.

The corps will make the decision along with the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the National Park Service, Gusoff reported.

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