Breach Management Plan
Breach Management Planning Process
The National Park Service initiated the planning process in 2015 to support a decision on how to manage the breach that was created within the Otis Pike Fire Island High Dune Wilderness Area of the Seashore during Hurricane Sandy. In accordance with the National Environmental Policy Act, the NPS will prepare a Breach Plan/EIS to provide a thorough evaluation to determine the potential benefits and consequences of management strategies prior to making a decision on how to manage the wilderness breach.
A public scoping period was open from August 31 through October 8, 2015. Public scoping is the first step in the EIS planning process and informs the development of a draft plan. A Draft Plan/EIS was available for public review and comment late summer, 2016.
A Powerful Storm
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.
Breach Contingency Plan and Breach Management
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.
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.
What Is Federal Wilderness and How Is It Managed?
Federal wilderness areas are wild, undeveloped, federal lands that have been designated and protected by Congress. The Fire Island Wilderness is the only federally designated wilderness in New York State. Federal wilderness areas are to be managed "to preserve natural conditions" and to be "untrammeled by man, where man himself is visitor who does not remain." Management of the Fire Island Wilderness must comply with the Wilderness Act (Public Law 88-577), the 980 legislation that established the Fire Island Wilderness (Public Law 96-585), the 1983 Wilderness Management Plan, and the anticipated 2016 Fire Island National Seashore Wilderness Stewardship Plan and Backcountry Camping Policy. None of these management directives preclude closing a breach in the wilderness.