THE FIRE ISLAND ASSOCIATION HELD
ITS 2009 SUMMER MEMBERSHIP MEETING AT WHYTE HALL, FIRE ISLAND PINES, ON JULY
Ron Martin, President
of the Fire Island Pines Property Owner Association, welcomed the approximately
80 in attendance, commenting on the multi-purpose
facility and its frequent use by members of the Pines community. The meeting
room seats more than 200, and its entire north wall was opened to an expansive veranda and the breeze from Great South Bay.
FIA President Jerry Stoddard introduced other Fire Island Association officers.
He noted there are many other activities and organization events throughout the
island on a summer Saturday, and that he particularly regretted the conflict
with the summer meeting of the Ocean Beach Association, one of FIA’s main supporters. He added that he hopes to return the
FIA meeting to Ocean Beach again next summer and to rotate it to other
communities occasionally in the future in order to stress FIA’s island-wide character.
Phil Nolan, Supervisor
of the Town of Islip opened the meeting with remarks centered around the importance of Fire Island to mainland Long
Island. Supervisor Nolan said the island not only contributes in an economic
sense to the economy of the mainland, it also provides physical protection from
the Atlantic Ocean. He recalled his personal connection to Fire Island as a
summer employee, and believes that many Long Islanders have similar memories.
In response to a question about
how the Town works with the National Seashore, the Supervisor talked about
island contractors’ request to be allowed to drive on weekdays later into the
early spring season. The park had notified the contractors in October of the
cut-off date for weekday driving and contractors asked the Supervisor to
intervene. Mr. Nolan said his approach to such disputes is to find a solution
in which each side “gets half a loaf.” Later in the meeting Superintendent Chris Soller addressed the same topic, saying that he thought a compromise had been reached,
but that some contractors had pressed the matter further with the
Superintendent. Mr. Soller, who took office in the
middle of the controversy, said he will work closely with Mr. Nolan in the
Another topic discussed by
Supervisor Nolan, and returned to later in the meeting, dealt with police
protection. Mr. Nolan said in his experience, “the squeaky wheel gets the oil.”
He noted the many conflicting demands for government services in a time of
economic stringency and said it is a fact of life that those with strong, well-articulated
demands tend to get more of what they want than people without those
attributes. He recommended that Islanders not hesitate to write to the County
Executive if police coverage is an issue they are concerned about.
Assemblywoman Ginny Fields also addressed safety and security issues, but began
by deploring the actions of some members of the New York State Senate who
prevented that body from getting its work done. Ms Fields is a popular figure
on Fire Island and her remark was applauded.
Ms. Fields indicated agreement
with Supervisor Nolan when it comes to policing of Fire Island. She is
particularly concerned about police vehicles having to leave the island for
refueling in Bay Shore, a long and time-consuming trip. Mr. Stoddard asked FINS’
Chief Ranger Jay Lippert to comment on the role of the Fire Island Law Enforcement and Security Council
and Chief Lippert noted the close cooperation of his
team with the Suffolk Police, including the sharing of a planned fuel depot on
Ms. Fields said she is a big
supporter of the Council, which she feels is a model for inter-agency
cooperation in the area of public safety. She said she attends its monthly
meetings whenever she is not required to be in Albany – and when she is,
she has the meeting covered by a staff person.
Jerry Stoddard supplemented Ms.
Fields’ comments by adding to statistics she provided:
The number of seasonal officers on
Fire Island is essentially unchanged from 2008 to 2009, he said. In 2008, the
Suffolk Police Marine Bureau responded to 341 calls for medical assistance.
Twenty five patients were evacuated by helicopter, 188 by police boat (which
are fully equipped as ambulances), and 100 by vehicular ambulance. Nineteen
refused medical help.
Stoddard added that he feels it
isn’t appropriate for FIA to be critical of County Executive Levy in the face
of the Commander of the Marine Bureau’s assertion that his complement of
officers is sufficient to keep the peace and provide the other services people
have come to rely on. He noted that at least part of the issue is a result of
the police union’s ongoing disagreement with the County Executive over funding
and staffing of the Police Department, and that is not something FIA is able to
Joe Vietri, Chief of Policy and Planning for the North Atlantic
Division of the US Army Corps of Engineers, provided an update on negotiations
between the Corps and New York State agencies on the Fire Island Inlet to
Montauk Point shoreline restoration project. And, for the first time in recent
years, his report reflected optimism – or at least a reduced level of
frustration. He said that the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation
has at last agreed that it will endorse a project based on the array of alternatives
and options developed by the Corps’ ten-year, $30 million study of the needs of
Long Island’s south shore. The science, Mr. Vietri said, has been completed. The next step is for the state and the National
Seashore to agree on which of the alternative possible approaches they want to
follow. He said the Corps’ report, now under review by the involved agencies,
would be released on August 15 and the public will have an opportunity to
comment on it.
In reply to a question, Mr. Vietri noted that the Corps cannot impose its findings on
the state, but only explain to the state and local agencies that have to live
with them the decisions that have to be made. He said he is more convinced than
ever that “No one will be entirely happy with the final product.” He thinks it
unlikely that any one agency’s or interest group’s position will be adopted in
full. The implication is that any group’s position must be put forward
vigorously in the public comment period if it is to receive serious
Mr. Vietri touched on the broad array of scientific and engineering concerns whose
influence needs to be weighed in deciding the nature of the final decision.
Seashore Superintendent Chris Soller expressed his pleasure at being back at Fire Island, a place he “fell in love
with” when he was assigned here 20 years ago. He is now a 31-year veteran of
the Park Service, and a Fire Island Pines home owner. Previous speakers had
raised points with implications for the National Seashore, and Mr. Soller responded to them, incuding,
as noted above, with respect to contractor driving.
He also showed his concern about
the island as a Pines property owner who happens to know a fair amount about
coastal dynamics. He seemed distressed by some of his neighbors who are unaware
of what he called the “fragile nature” of the Fire Island barrier. He cited one
owner who could not understand why he should need a zoning variance from the
Town of Brookhaven to build a swimming pool on the dune in front of his house,
since neighbors on each side already had them. Another complained that DEC was
concerned about his removal of a portion of the dune fronting his home because
it interfered with his view of the ocean.
The Superintendent discussed his
work years ago on the federal zoning regulations for the Seashore, which he
described as setting the framework for cooperation between the Seashore, the
mainland municipalities and the island communities. He suggested this is an
area that will be receiving more attention as the park updates its General Management
The final scheduled speaker for
the meeting was Chuck Bowman,
principal of Land Use Environmental Services, whose firm had provided
permitting advisory services, and environmental monitoring and reporting,
during last winter’s beach building project. He answered technical questions
about the project, which he described as a wonderful example of inter-community
cooperation. He was especially impressed by the willingness of communities in
the central portion of the project to defer to completion of the project in the
eastern communities before their own, which had been scheduled to be done
first. Delays in construction made it likely that piping plovers and other
endangered shorebirds would attempt nesting before the project was completed, and
this was more likely to occur first in the eastern communities, based on past
Mr. Bowman answered questions
about the impact of tapering the project into federal land and that of
non-participating communities. He also discussed the extent to which each
community’s contract was fulfilled, in terms of the amount of yards of sand
placed. Mr. Bowman said it is not too early to start exploring new sources of
sand for future projects, in the event the project discussed by Mr. Vietri continues to be deferred. He concluded by noting
that the final report of the consulting engineers, Coastal Planning &
Engineering, is now in draft form and will be available later this summer.
As the meeting was being
adjourned, Pete Conte, a Suffolk
County Police Officer and 20-year member of its Marine Bureau, who is also a
representative of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, asked to be
recognized from the floor and took issue with some of the remarks made by Jerry
Stoddard. Officer Conte is concerned about the physical safety of police
officers, as well as the safety of civilians, and he believes policemen are in
jeopardy because of their diminished numbers in the face of growing crowds on
the island. He said the number of police on Fire Island is much diminished from
past years and it is only a question of time before an officer is severely
injured, or worse. Mr. Stoddard repeated that he does not think it is
appropriate for FIA to takes sides in a dispute between the police union, its
management and the County Executive.
The meeting was adjourned a little
after 1 p.m. From their comments, those in attendance agreed the speakers had
provided important information about the most important issues facing Fire
Island communities. FIA will publicize the Corps report, and the reaction of
the involved agencies, and will continue to keep members abreast on all of the
issues discussed at the meeting – plus the others that are sure to arise
in the future.
The help of all Fire Islanders is
important in allowing us to do this. Please consider joining FIA if you are not
already a member. Go to “Member Info” on the FIA website: fireislandassn.org.
POST MEETING INTERVIEW WITH JOSEPH VIETRI, USACE
Director Nat Plng Center for Costal
& Storm Damage
Chief of Policy and Planning for
the North Atlantic Division of the US Army Corps of Engineers
Q. Given the current
status what do you see as the next steps to get this long awaited study
A. Once we get the Dept of Interior Comments in (hopefully by 15 Aug) we will
sit down with all the Agencies and try to reach resolution on a collaborative
Plan to recommend. The County, Towns and Villages within the study area from
Babylon to Montauk will have a big say in what goes forward and ultimately
whatever is selected will go to the Public for review and Comment. I am hopeful
we can accomplish all of this by next spring.
Q. What about FINS will they support any Plan.
A. I am optimistic that all sides will view this as the last opportunity to
insure the protection of Fire Island while at the same time reducing to the
extent practical increased development in the Flood Plain. This is also a
wonderful opportunity to provide Environmental Restoration in the Bays and
adjoining area. To be sure the project will have its detractors and the costs
for any plan will be high.
my opinion however, with the effects of Climate Change and increased pressure
on our physical environment due to increased development, poor land use
controls and the lack of a comprehensive plan to deal with the future the costs
will be far greater then any plan recommended.
Chief Planning & Policy
Director Nat Plng Center for Costal & Storm
North Atlantic Division