Businesses, Suffolk County in flap over nesting piping plovers

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Kristin Thorne reports on federally protected birds in Suffolk County.

There is growing frustration on Long Island by beachgoers and business owners over some federally-protected birds.

They claim Suffolk County officials are going too far by shutting down beaches to protect piping plovers, and retailers near Smith Point County Park say some beaches have been closed most of the summer.

Craig Burkhardt owns Smith Point Bait and Tackle in Shirley, family owned since 1952. But now, he's in danger of losing the business.

"I'm going to lose it to this," he said. "This fight that I can't win."

The piping plover is an endangered species that has been nesting at the park's outer beach, which is usually closed a month or so every summer for the birds. But it's been closed for more than two months this year, with no end in sight, taking a major toll on nearby businesses that rely on people who go to fish, surf and play at the beach.

"I'm not saying the bird has to be gone, but I also don't think my business should be gone," Burkhardt said. "I don't feel like my kids should have to suffer."

Burkhardt questions if the birds are even there, showing a picture taken recently of an empty nesting cage. A county legislator sent out her staff Wednesday to take a look, and they tell Eyewitness News they saw no nests and no birds.

Mark Gagliardi owns Religion Surf and Skate and says his bottom line is down 50 percent this summer.

"It's taken a big hit," he said. "It's cut in half. It's a shame. They have to open it soon."

And then there's Smith Point Beverage, whose owners say sales are down sharply too.

"A lot of businesses on the strip only have a short window of opportunity to make that money to carry it through the winter," owner Ed Dowling said. "Yeah, it affects us."

A spokeswoman for the county executive's office says inspectors are out every day looking for the birds and even spotted some Thursday. She says if they open up the beach, the county could face a $25,000 federal fine.

She says the business owners aren't the only ones who want the beach back open. They do too.
Related Topics:
businessbirdsendangered speciesbeachesSmithtown
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