By JOSEPH C. LOEFFLER
1955, our friends and neighbors on Fire
bland organized against a plan to build a road from Robert Moses State ,Park
through a half dozen or so cornInunities
to Ocean Beach, which, when my family
moved there, was accessible only by ferry. They won.
Then, to make sure no
one else would get the
same idea, they pushed to create the Fire Island
National Seashore, and won again. The result
is the Fire Island we know today—a 32-mile long barrier island where the public owns 80 percent of the upland and 100 percent
of the beaches. But many of those beaches are in trouble because of erosion.
. The object in 1955 was to keep cars out of
the summer communities; still one of the best
things about Fire Island. Today, the fight is about protecting the island itself. The Fire Island Association (FIA), a league of property
owner groups in two Islip villages and 15 hamlets (seven of them in Brookhaven) Inside National Seashore boundaries,
is helping to coordinate the effort
FIA estimates island self-help nourishment projects since 1997 have cost. Fire
Islanders nearly $20 million in extra property taxes for a total of 2.6 million
cubic yards of sand.
It shouldn't be the property owner's problem, but government isn't doing its job. Ever since
the monster storms of 1992-1994, FIA has
been urging the National Park
Service, US Army Corps of Engineers,
New York State DEC and DOS, Suffolk
County and the towns of Islip anti
Brookhaven to join forces to protect not only Fire Island but low-lying
mainland areas as well.
1909-2000, FIA pleaded for Corps' Fire
Island interim Project (FLIP) as a stopgap measure. The FLIP went all
the way to the public hearing stage, only to be blocked by the NYS Department of State on the
grounds that a more comprehensive Corps project, extending from Fire Island to Montauk Point (FLIP), would soon be in place.
To date, this has not occurred. Not only has FIMP not been built, but
last summer, Corps officials told FIA it would be August of 2009 before plans are approved. Some delay is understandable.
promises to be the new national paradigm for
coastal projects, combining effective shore protection with many environmental benefits, and dealing with a region rather than a locality.
It has to be a mode/ of intergovernmental cooperation and use everything the Corps of Engineers has learned in 75 years of protecting coastal
But 2009? That means it will be close to 50
years since the government did
anything to preserve the Fire Island barrier,
despite its immense value to the region as a recreational resource and as protector of thousands of mainland
structures against floods. When government takes this long to act, citizens tend to act for
themselves. And they are.
The only common
sense, environmentally neutral way for
government to cope with the effects or sea level rise in coastal areas is to make beaches
wider and higher. But, since 1964, only private citizens have put sand on Fire
with the projects of 19931994, Fire Islanders taxed themselves heavily to
pay the cost of protecting Long island's South Shore. Government has yet to act—except to take care of its own property at Smith Point and
Robert Moses State Park.
So Fire Island communities once again must shoulder the burden of sand . replenishment, something
government deals with just about everywhere else. With the cooperation of Islip and Brookhaven,
communities have hired coastal engineers and tapped into existing local erosion control, taxing districts to pay for the wider and higher beaches that
will also protect communities is
low-lying areas of the mainland.
This is not a small thing. For some relatively modest
summer cottages, taxes could be $2,000 a
year higher for several years. Each community will
decide for itself whether to participate in this effort, based upon its individual situation.
Erosion conditions vary, but some
communities will look on this as an emergency situation
that must be dealt with now. Others may see it as insurance
against storms like last April's. Some will opt out, betting that the Corps project will finally be built before
too much infrastructure is damaged.
Local efforts are in no way a
substitute for the FIMP project. Individual community projects are small.
They don't make the beach that much wider or
that much higher, or bring in enough
sand to provide more than a few years
of protection. What they can do is "hold the line,* hopefully long
enough for the FIMP to take over.
an elected official, I know we are in an era of sea level rise and need
to preserve open space in coastal areas for
recreation and environmental protection.
I also know the FIMP is essential to Long Island.
Until that project is in
place, Fire Island communities will do what they can. And when they protect the barrier island, they protect towns and
villages on the mainland as well. They shouldn't have to do it
Editor's Note: Loeffler is mayor
Village of Ocean Beach, and ex officio director of
the Fire Island Association.
Secretary of the Interior, John Paul Woodley, Jr.
Ocean Beach Mayor Joseph C. Loeffler, Jr. addresses the group
Officials including Joseph R. Vietri, Chief of Policy and Planning for the Corps of Engineers’ North Atlantic Division and Secretary of the Interior, John Paul Woodley, Jr. tour the beach
Statement of FIA:
Assistant Secretary of the Army Visits Fire Island
April 17, the first warm and sunny day of the 2008 season on Fire Island
brought a sizable entourage of agency officials at the Ocean Beach Community
House to discuss the Fire Island Inland to Montauk Point (FIMP) shore
The Assistant Secretary of the Army, John Paul Woodley, Jr., the senior
government official present, was accompanied by his deputy, Douglas Lamont. A
helicopter fly-over of the project area was followed by a briefing on the
status of the project, a joint effort by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and
New York State. A Q&A session with the press and others present, and a tour
of the beach led by Ocean Beach Mayor Joseph C. Loeffler, Jr., was followed
by a 45-minute "agencies only" meeting where problem areas were discussed.
FIA president Jerry Stoddard attended all but the latter session at Mayor
Involved with the meeting were Joseph R. Vietri, Chief of Policy and Planning
for the Corps of Engineers' North Atlantic Division, the Chief Engineer for
the New York District, Col. Aniello Tortora, his Acting Deputy, Joseph C.
Seebode, and several executives from the district,. The U.S. Department of
the Interior was represented by Michael T. Reynolds, Deputy Director of the
Eastern Region of the National Park Service. Peter Scully, Region 1
Administrator for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
represented the state.
Interested observers included representatives of Senators Schumer and
Clinton, (Gerry Petrella and Lauren Montes respectively) and Congressmen
Israel and Bishop (Erin Murphy and Lisa Marie Wieber).
The briefing, by Project Manager Clifford S. Jones and Project Planner
Stephen C. Couch, brought out that New York State and the Department of the
Interior are expected to identify plans that are "acceptable" to
then agree on a final plan by the end of May. The agency review process is
expected to be completed by August 2009.
In September 2009 the public will be able to review and comment on plan
details, but it will probably be 2012 before FIMP project sand is actually
placed on the beach. This timetable makes the 2008 community beach fill
projects now being discussed for a dozen communities with Coastal Planning
and Engineering (Boca Raton) and Land Use Environmental Services (Riverhead)
that much more important.
Those attending the meeting agreed it was helpful in advancing the FIMP and
commended the Corps of Engineers for putting it together.