Sandy and The Breach Four Years On
Good day everyone. I am Marshall Brown, President and Co-Founder of Save The Great South Bay. Today, Oct 29th, marks the 4th anniversary of Sandy, and of the inlet it created. The accompanying slide show has been provided by Mike Busch of Great South Bay Images (www.greatsouthbayimages.com). Sandy changed his life. He became a photographer to help save the inlet and the bay, and a Director of Save The Great South Bay.
Our organization was formed exactly twelve weeks before Sandy, at a Sayville High School reunion. We were shocked at what had happened to the bay of our youth, and vowed to do something about it.
Then Sandy hit and revealed to us all how vulnerable we’d become, how antiquated our wastewater and electrical infrastructure was, how our marine and aquatic environments were in the process of collapsing.
But Sandy’s legacy was also one of hope. Even as the winds were dying down, I got a call on my cell. It was from a scientist at The Nature Conservancy.
He said “You won’t believe what happened. Fire Island breached just where it needed to. Bellport Bay is now flushing. We would have needed millions of dollars to do this ourselves if we could have, and Sandy did it for us.” I wouldn’t have power for another two weeks, but during that time I made it out there. We were seeing bay bottom we hadn’t seen in decades, and a profusion of fish and birds. Bellport Bay was coming alive.
As you all well know, The Army Corps was set to close the breach. Every politician at the federal, state, county, and local levels were calling for it to be closed. By some miracle, the breach happened on National Parks Service land, which meant that the Corps could not close it immediately. There was to be a 60 day observation period. Science prevailed. Prof. Charlie Flagg of Stony Brook was tasked with monitoring the breach, and he proved that it was stable, even if it was dynamic, and that it didn’t contribute measurably to flooding or tidal levels. That was happening up and down the Eastern Seaboard, and wasn’t limited to our humble bay.
We, the people of The South Shore, also prevailed. From a group of 40 pre-Sandy, Save The Great South Bay quickly grew to over 600 by March 2013 for a public hearing in Bellport. We, in conjunction with Long Island’s environmentalist community, fought back hard against the politicians and the Corps. There are facts and there are fears. Over time, the facts won out.
Today, The Army Corps, in their $1.2 billion new Fire Island to Montauk Plan or FIMP, continues to claim the breach causes flooding, even when their own analysis shows that The Fire Island, Moriches, and Shinnecock Inlets are responsible for 84% of the back bay flooding on The South Shore, with a fair amount of the remaining coming from rain on the mainland. The Corps is in the business of breach closing and pumping sand onto beaches, a process they call ‘beach renourishment.’ This new inlet throws into question that mission. While sand dumped by the Corps gets regularly washed away by storms, requiring millions of dollars more for ‘renourishment’ as far as the eye can see, this new inlet is adding millions of cubic feet of sand along the bay side of Fire Island, widening this barrier beach, as breaches do. Its vast sandy shoals also cut down wave action when there is a storm.
In the public commentary on the draft plan, just released by The Department of Interior, The USFW criticized the Army Corps for using outdated data in their modeling and forecasts, and for offering flawed and unscientifically supported impact analyses. At the same time the USGS stated that “The methodology of calculating shoreline change is not scientifically valid,” and “flawed” and that “the sea level rise rates used in the document are scientifically incorrect and are unrealistically low.”
With $1.2 billion to spend, The Army Corps could do a lot of good for The Great South Bay and for Long Island, but if they act on bad science, as they have, if they don’t get current and start sharing their modeling and data with the public, they will do great harm, continuing to shovel sand against the sea rather than working with nature, and seeking to revitalize it.
During these four years, we have learned it is possible to create consensus, to build local grassroots efforts for the environment. But we have also learned that the fight most surely continues, in part because we are up against entrenched bureaucracies and mentalities. There is so much left to do to protect this inlet, to change our policies regarding breaches, and, most broadly, to save The Great South Bay. We have over 10,000 members now, in every South Shore community.
Please find us on Facebook, or on the web, and be sure to stream Water Matters, at liwater.org. There you can hear from our marine scientists, advocates and public officials about what must be done to rescue all our local waters. What can you do? Help restore a local creek or pond. Step away from the lawn fertilizers and the pesticides. Support funding for wastewater infrastructure. The inlet is doing its part. Let’s do ours.