More Park Facilities Reopen During May 2013
Watch Hill and Sailors Haven marinas open May 10. Limited ferry service from Sayville to Sailors Haven resumes May 13 and ferries from Patchogue to Watch Hill start on May 18. Remaining park facilities to reopen by May 25, 2013. More »
Post-Hurricane Sandy: Old Inlet Breach on Fire Island
The force of the wind and storm surge caused by Hurricane Sandy on Monday, October 29, 2012, caused numerous overwashes and resulted in three breaches (where water freely flows between the ocean and the bay) on barrier islands along the south shore of Long Island. Two of those three breaches were on Fire Island and within the boundaries of Fire Island National Seashore: one at Old Inlet (within the Otis Pike Fire Island High Dune Wilderness) and another in Smith Point County Park.
Within 48 hours of the storm the Breach Contingency Plan (BCP), put in place in 1997 to address any breaches that impact coastal Long Island from Fire Island Inlet east to Montauk Point, was implemented by a multi-agency group including the National Park Service (NPS), U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.
The BCP calls for filling breaches which do not occur in the federally designated wilderness area. For the breach at Smith Point County Park, which is within Fire Island National Seashore boundaries but is not within the wilderness area, BCP actions were implemented immediately to close the breach by mechanical means. Closure was completed in November 2012.
For a breach within Fire Island National Seashore's wilderness area, the BCP calls for the NPS to monitor and evaluate the breach for a period of 45 to 60 days to determine if the breach will close naturally. That initial monitoring period passed at the end of December 2012. Since the breach was relatively stable, the BCP team decided to continue monitoring at that time.
Between January and mid-March 2013, when a series of winter storms affected the island, the new inlet migrated to the west and its channel deepened. BCP partners began preliminary steps to prepare for the implementation of a closure of the breach. (See March 27, 2013 update.)
Currently, monitoring data indicates that the breach is dynamic but there is a likelihood that closure by natural processes may occur in the future. Based on this evaluation, the NPS is continuing to monitor the wilderness breach.
While storm events and breaches are part of a barrier island's natural processes and breaches can provide ecological benefits, decisions about the breach must be balanced by concerns that the breach may exacerbate flooding in adjacent communities of Long Island's south shore. Monitoring of the breach at Old Inlet began within 48 hours of Hurricane Sandy. The State University of New York at Stony Brook, U. S. Geological Survey (USGS), National Park Service (NPS), USACE, and other coastal experts have been regularly monitoring the wilderness breach conditions (breach position, depth, and tidal exchange), and water levels and water quality in Great South Bay.
Breach Shoreline Position
The location of the breach has been monitored at least weekly since the breach opened to determine if the breach is migrating or widening. Mapping-grade GPS shoreline position data is collected by walking the east and west boundaries of the breach within 2 hours of ocean low tide. Paired measurement of the east and west breach boundaries (generally collected on consecutive dates) identify the location as well as the width of the breach.
During the first 60 days after Sandy, NPS staff evaluated the position of the breach on an almost daily basis. Monitoring has continued on at least a weekly basis. Shoreline position data from selected dates is presented in the table (below).
a High water levels and wide runnel prevented field crew from safely walking breach shoreline on south (ocean) end on this date
Breach Depth and Tidal Exchange
Physical surveys have been conducted in the breach to determine the depth and cross-sectional area of the breach as well as tidal exchange through the breach.
U. S. Geological Survey (USGS) Water Resources Division staff conducted a physical survey of the Old Inlet breach on November 6, 2012, and a follow-up survey on November 20, 2012.
Stony Brook University's School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences has also completed physical surveys of the breach on December 7 and 20, 2012, and February 3 and 22, 2013.
Water Levels and Water Quality in the Great South Bay
Stony Brook University's School of Atmospheric Sciences (SoMas) has been collecting water level, salinity and water temperature data throughout the Great South Bay as part of its Great South Bay Project. This monitoring network includes a station at Bellport, New York, approximately 2.7 miles northwest of the Old Inlet breach. The Bellport station, which was established in 2004, is being used to evaluate the effects of the breach at Old Inlet. Monitoring so far shows that since Hurricane Sandy, tide levels recorded at Bellport have returned to pre-Sandy conditions.
To date, breach monitoring data indicates that:
The National Park Service will continue to work with its partners to monitor the breach, ensuring that data is available to inform management decisions.
Additional information and updates will be provided when available.
The National Park Service is one of several agencies involved in an interagency breach management response for the south shore of Long Island, as part of the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers Fire Island to Montauk Point Reformulation Study. After Hurricane Sandy's arrival, the 1997 Breach Contingency Plan for Fire Island was implemented.
Fire Island National Seashore's enabling legislation (Public Law 88-587, September 11, 1964) allows for shore erosion control or beach protection measures within park boundaries, under certain criteria. (See Sec 8)
The Otis Pike Fire Island High Dune Wilderness Act (Public Law 96-585, December 23, 1980) designated approximately 1,363 acres as wilderness in Fire Island National Seashore. This wilderness designation does not preclude the repair of breaches that occur in the wilderness, under specific circumstances. See (d)
A 1983 Wilderness Management Plan (WMP) for Fire Island National Seashore also addresses breaches in the wilderness area. (See page 18 of the WMP.)
Did You Know?
The Piping Plover is one of Fire Island National Seashore's threatened and endangered species. It makes its nest above the high tide line on clean, undeveloped beaches in the early spring. Chicks are fledged by late summer. More...