Community Self-Help Beach Nourishment Projects

COMMUNITY SELF-HELP BEACH NOURISHMENT PROJECTS

It is the policy of the Fire Island Association (FIA) to fully support the right of each member community to decide and implement its own policy regarding beach nourishment and other shore protection projects paid for by village government or local erosion control taxing districts. FIA, the principal stakeholder group, represents the interests of the owners of nearly 4,000 residential and business properties on Fire Island, the barrier island between Long Island’s south shore and the Atlantic Ocean.

OVERVIEW

Communities on Fire Island and in low-lying areas of mainland Long Island are jeopardized by accelerating erosion of the barrier island. Much of this erosion is the result of severe storms and man-made blockage of the natural supply of sand that sustained the beaches for centuries, and the failure of government at all levels to address the problem for more than four decades.

The US Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) has been working with New York State to implement a Congressionally-authorized shore protection project for Long Island’s south shore since 1960. With the creation of the Fire Island National Seashore (FINS) in 1964, the US Department of the Interior became an interested agency. Today, the National Seashore has within its boundaries two incorporated villages in Islip, Ocean Beach and Saltaire, and fifteen unincorporated hamlets in Islip and Brookhaven. These communities range in size from a dozen to 700 residences, the great majority of them summer and weekend vacation homes. They make few demands for municipal services, generate some $15 million annually in municipal taxes, and help to maintain public beaches visited by hundreds of thousands. A key component of the south shore Long Island economy, they support mainland businesses and service companies with millions of dollars in revenue each year.

Since the park’s inception, the Corps has been blocked from protecting the Fire Island shoreline by those who oppose the existence of these economically vital communities within its boundaries. In 1978, the US Council on Environmental Quality required that the Corps project, now known as the Fire Island Inlet to Montauk Point (FIMP) project, be reformulated. Almost thirty years later, in the summer of 2007, the Corps admitted to the Fire Island communities that details of the reformulation will not be final until late 2009 – if then. It could be additional years before funding is in place and the plan implemented.

Simultaneously, FINS is engaged in a complex and time consuming effort to revise its General Management Plan, which must take account of shore protection needs among other park management issues. The Corps and FINS agree that the shore protection and park management plans must each take account of the other’s needs. FIA supports accomplishment of both of these objectives where they are not inconsistent with or obstructive to community needs and interests. For example, it is not acceptable to delay community-sponsored beach renourishment or other shore protection projects pending completion by FINS of its General Management Plan revision, nor is it required for issuance of any permits necessary for a community to proceed with such projects.

BACKGROUND

In the wake of the northeast storms of 1992-93, FIA retained Coastal Planning & Engineering, Inc. (CP&E) to ask federal, state and local agencies for help in restoring Fire Island’s shoreline. In 1994, several Fire Island communities asked CP&E to design and build small projects to provide emergency protection. (The Corps anticipates community efforts like this will continue until FIMP is implemented, but recognizes they in no way substitute for it.) By 1999, the Corps of Engineers had secured US Environmental Protection Agency and NY Department of Environmental Conservation approval for an island-wide stop-gap project. When the NY Department of State declared the interim project not needed because FIMP was soon to be implemented, the interim project was abandoned. Nine years later, FIMP is still years away. While the Corps has worked to complete studies aimed at meeting the demands of various environmental groups and agencies, CP&E engineered additional community beach fill projects in 2002 and 2005, with more planned for 2008. FIA estimates that communities have expended almost $20 million in self-imposed taxes and other community-generated funds to place 2.6 million cubic yards of sand on Fire Island’s public beaches. Only a small portion of the barrier island’s beach has been reinforced by this effort, which shows the need for a comprehensive federal/state project.

PRESENT STATUS

As community projects can never be more than stop-gap measures, FIMP is essential to long-term protection of Fire Island and low-lying areas of the mainland. The April 2007 nor’easter that resulted in a Suffolk County request for $26 million in federal disaster aid, and the near miss by Hurricane Noel in November 2007 show that dangerous storms will continue as a major concern. In Davis Park, the April storm rendered some houses, safely behind 100 feet or more of well-vegetated dunes when built, unusable due to unchecked erosion. These homes will survive only if an emergency FEMA project to provide short-term protection with 27,000 cubic yards of sand barged from the mainland is successful. Davis Park is among a number of communities that have again called on CP&E for beach nourishment projects to hold the line against erosion until FIMP supplants them. While not all communities are able to make the necessary commitment, more such interim projects are likely to be needed.

POLICY

    FIA will support Fire Island communities as they deal with beach erosion, while continuing to urge prompt implementation of the FIMP – by the end of 2009, if possible.
    FIA will meet and communicate with government agencies and other groups as necessary to gather and disseminate information on technical details of beach nourishment proposals, including benefits of joint projects.
    FIA will use public statements, press releases, newsletters and other materials to provide historical background and other information on the value of shore protection projects to Fire Island and mainland communities.
    FIA will help communities qualify for federal, state and private organization grants related to erosion control and other island needs.
    FIA will assist coastal engineers and dredging companies in providing technical and other information to members of the public interested in learning more about the process of shore protection.

Approved by the Board of Directors

December 12, 2007