Public input wanted on Old Inlet
The National Parks Service is requesting comments on strategies addressing the Old Inlet breach. The public has until Oct. 8 online.

Courtesy photo     

Public input wanted on Old Inlet

Story By: LINDA LEUZZI
9/10/2015


While scientific data chronicling conditions at Old Inlet before and after Superstorm Sandy and its resulting breach has been compiled in an internal scoping document by the National Parks Service, a Notice of Intent issued Tuesday, Sept. 8 is now in place, urging the public to review and comment on potential management strategies within the next 30 days online. The information will be considered for the Wilderness Breach Management Plan/Environmental Impact Statement.

The possible management strategies of the breach, located at the Otis Pike Fire Island High Dune Wilderness, include: Leave the breach open and managed under natural conditions; close the breach; leave the breach open and establish procedures for closing the breach if certain conditions occur; and stabilize the breach to provide a permanent inlet, that is, connecting the Great South Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.

EA Engineering PC, headquartered in Hunt Valley, Md., is charged with analyzing the scientific data undertaken by NPS. 

A scoping newsletter for the public has been already on line on the NPS Fire Island National Seashore website since Aug. 31. The deadline for responses is Oct. 8. 

FINS Superintendent Christopher Soller said there were no plans for a public meeting at this phase, but there will some public workshops at a later date, although not on the public scoping.

“It’s taken two months,” said Soller of the internal scoping.  “We feel pretty good about where we are on this.”

“All of the monitoring for the last three years reports that the breach is relatively stable and not causing increased water levels,” Soller said. 

Soller said EA has reviewed Park Service identification on what needs to be addressed, as well as alternatives and what questions need to be answered. “Also, local partners are affected and we asked them their suggestions,” Soller said of NYS Department of Environmental Conservation and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. 

”We’re on a very tight time frame,” he explained. “Funds for the EIS have to be expended by the end of 2016.”

Funds came from Sandy Mitigation and Resiliency money awarded to Department of Interior Sandy Recovery, Soller explained.  In that $1 million funding source, $591,000 was contracted to EA; the remainder will be used by NPS to undertake managing the contract and researching and monitoring.

EA will also organize the public’s comments and analyze the Park Service’s comments, Soller said. “They’ll facilitate meetings and coordinate with all the scientists on their monitoring.” 

The issue has raised heated discussions from residents, particularly in the Bellport and East Patchogue areas. “As big as the issue is, there’s not a lot of variations to be looked at,” Soller said. “There are only so many things you can do. It’s not a complicated analysis, but what level of risk do you want to take and there are people who are visceral on both sides, so our scientific research will guide it.”

Patti Rafferty, acting chief, Division of Resources Management

Gateway National Recreation Area, is the FINS lead project manager.

No decision has been made, she emphasized.

“We were very fortunate we had a lot of research already done before Sandy,” she said. “What’s key is the before-Sandy data and after-Sandy data.” The Department of the Interior provided substantial funding for mitigation and resiliency projects and NPS received funding to collect additional monitoring related to the breach, she said. Rafferty pointed out the data included benthic and eelgrass research. “The public in the scoping may say there may be other alternatives,” she said.

After the public scoping period concludes, NPS will review the comments and draft the preliminary alternatives. A draft plan EIS will be available for the public to review and comment on in summer 2016. To review and submit public comment, go online at htttp://parkplanning.nps.gov/FireIslandBreachManagementPlan.