The Atlantic Magazine: On Long Island Coast, An Unexpected Gift From Hurricane Sandy

The Atlantic posted this article on The Breach / New Inlet online 11/13. I am thankful that the reporter Will James chose to shed light on the issues facing The Great South Bay y writing this article. Public awareness is crucial if we are to restore our waters. All 2.8 million Long Islanders need to know why their waters are polluted and what needs to be done. As Prof Gobler, who runs Stonybrook University Southampton’s Coastal and Estuarine Research Program and is a world expert in marine algal blooms and their effect on marine environments, notes that the breach / New Inlet shows us how the Great South Bay and other bays can rebound if the water was cleaner.

Gobler admits the inlet’s cleansing power is limited to an eastern swathe of the Great South Bay, but said that area has changed so much it’s now operating almost like “a totally different system.” And he sees an opening there for marine life to get a foothold again. “A lesson from the inlet is that if water quality is addressed,” he said, “the ecosystem can improve.”

On Long Island Coast, An Unexpected Gift From Hurricane SandyIn the mid-1980s, Long Island’s Great South Bay turned the color of Earl Grey tea. It was the first outbreak of an algal bloom known as the brown tide, and it would return year after year, fueled by pollution from the island’s septic systems. Over three decades, it would wipe out thousands of acres of underwater grass, contribute to the demise of a once-booming shellfish industry and make the shallow, 45-mile lagoon a symbol of the suburban island’s troubled relationship with water.

Embedly Powered

Gobler here is simply stating a fact. The inlet is just too small to really make a difference much beyond the southern part of Bellport Bay. This is consistent with the tidal data we see from Professor Flagg, gathered both before and after Sandy from various monitoring stations throughout the bay. It has shown that the breach / New Inlet has not increased flooding to any measurable degree. A number of Prof. Flagg’s reports are available on this site. There is no denying that there was a lot of flooding all along The South Shore this past winter, as a parade of Nor’ Easters came through, the first being Superstorm Sandy. With tens of thousands of homes on Long Island and Fire Island standing on flood prone ground, over $400 million dollars of Sandy Relief money is being spent raising homes. Something much larger than the breach/New Inlet is at work, and addressing that needs to be the focus.

While Will James depicts the issue of the breach / New Inlet as an ongoing conflict, with a decision in the balance, with the environmentalists pitted against the home owners, a year on post Sandy I’d have to say that the debate over the breach is pretty much over. The public has spoken. Emails, phone calls, public meetings. Many meetings with politicians and policy makers, dozens of environmental organizations working together in support of science and the case for leaving the breach alone. We stand with our flooded neighbors, and want to see them get the help they need quickly, with the money spent wisely and the work done well. At this point, the vast majority understand that spending $20 million to plug the breach would provide absolutely no protection from the next big storm.

The article’s main proponent for closing the breach is Aram Terchunian, who is described in the article as “Long Island coastal geologist who has worked as a consultant on other breach-closure projects.” He is also Founder and CEO of First Coastal, a firm that has made a lot of money on Long Island over the years pushing sand around. He refers to the breach as “a giant hole” must be plugged. To quote Upton Sinclair, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!” Sandy knocked Fire Island 75 feet north. It took with it 52% of Fire Island’s sand. The water’s coming, and spending $20 million so that a contractor fills it in (at great environmental damage to what is now by far the healthiest part of the The Great South Bay) is pure folly, and most people — scientists and the general public — now know that. He says “its not rocket science” to conclude filling the breach would mitigate flooding, but as he is the lone voice making the argument to close it, arrayed against a number of marine scientists with years of data at their disposal, one must ask him what kind of science he is practicing and where his data is.

Where I’d agree with Aram is this — the breach is vastly inadequate as a means to clean the bay because the real issue is water quality, and issue that comes from the mainland in the form of nitrogenous waste from septic tanks and fertilizer run off. Unfortunately inflaming people’s fears of flooding distracts us all from addressing this issue of water quality.

So in sum — The controversy about the breach / New Inlet, after a year of study and debate, is now largely a settled matter, despite the efforts of a few.   Save The Great South Bay, and the related environmental non-profits and research institutions it works with on Long Island welcomes continued discussion of how we can best rebuild our coasts and waterways so as to assure a Great South Bay for future generations. On December 21st, beginning at 9:30 AM there will be a panel discussion and community forum on the breach / New Inlet at Bellport Middle School (directions) where all the data we’ve gathered on flooding will be presented.


If you are interested helping further, please register with The Long Island Clean Water Partnership, a group of 125 + local enviro non-profits, research institutions and civic groups to learn more about Long Island’s water quality issues.    A scuba diver?   Interested in joining The Great South Bay Scuba Squad?  This spring, you can come out with your Gopro and help us map the conditions of the bay bottom throughout The Great South Bay.  In this effort, we are partnering with Operation Splash!, a 20 year old organization that has thus far removed over 1,000,000 lbs of debris from our waters.   All interested parties please contact us here.