Fire Island community calls for action over rapid beach erosion caused by storms

Chanteé Lans Image
Friday, December 22, 2023
Fire Island experiences erosion, sand loss; community calls for action
Chantee Lans has more on the calls for action.

FIRE ISLAND, Suffolk County (WABC) -- The serenity on Fire Island has been overcome with deep concern after Monday's powerful storm created dangerous erosion by washing away sand dunes designed to protect beaches and the coastline.

Brookhaven town officials confirmed that Fire Island has lost double the amount of sand than it had in all of last year.

"This is not funny anymore. This is a real emergency," said Fire Island Pines Fire Commissioner Walter Boss.

Boss has lived on the barrier island for more than 50 years.

"We lost another 20 feet with live trees and it's just getting closer by the minute," Boss said.

To put this into perspective, a cliff that once stood on the coastline is now nearly gone. The sandbags underneath are now exposed and the sand on top was that was meant to protect a power substation near the Great South Bay, washed away in Monday's storm.

It's one of three that provide electricity to the island.

Over on the ocean side of the Fire Island Pines community, sand dunes that once protected homes are gone. Yards of sand are missing, and steps to the beach now lead to nowhere.

"This is where I live most of the year," resident Eric Sawyer said. "It really pains me to see this happening to my community, to my home."

Sawyer says what's more damning is that Monday's storm washed away one of two vital roads. Both are desperately needed to bring in crews to fight fires.

"The only way to get into the community in the winter is driving on the road and our problem now is that the beach is so eroded that you can't drive a truck down," Sawyer said.

There are 700 homes on Fire Island. Homeowner Karen McCutcheon, who is the community manager for the island's property owners association, wants the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to step in and help.

"The Army Corps is currently a few miles down the beach doing replenishment in some of the other communities," she said. "They are refusing to come down here and help where it's really needed."

The Army Corps of Engineers say they plan to assess the damage from Monday's storm to see if it qualifies for emergency assistance.

Either way, Brookhaven Town Councilman Neil Foley is sounding the alarm.

"If we lose Fire Island, the South Shore and the coastline will become very vulnerable to significant flooding, storm surge, and we could lose homes on the south shore of the island," he said.

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