Irving Like, Protecting Fire Island -Holiday Inn
March 24, 2006 @ 12:00 am EST
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Among the many endearing features of Long Island are the ocean beaches. These beaches are vulnerable to storms and the cost to maintain them is a source of some controversy. Irving Like, Counsel for the Fire Island Association, spoke this morning to bring a better understanding of what those beaches mean to all of us, and how that cost is borne.
The discussion began by outlining how important those beaches are to the Long Island economy. Over 2 million people visit Fire Island each year and hundreds of millions of dollars are attracted to Long Island simply because these beaches exist. Of course these beaches also are also a major recreational asset for all of Long Islanders. The south shore of Long Island is an enormous potential flood plain. A category 4 storm would inundate the south shore communities all the way up to Sunrise Highway. There are 73,000 homes and hundreds of thousands of people that would be affected. The barrier beaches are a natural buffer, that if left to erode would end the protection afforded by those barrier beaches.
Fire Island is 32 miles long. Only 6 miles of the island contain residences. The balance, 80%, of the land is state, federal, and town properties. Some of it is parks, such as Robert Moses Park, Bellport Beach, and other municipal public uses, but most of it is still wild. This necklace of barrier beach contains an enormous reserve of wild life, making it the largest natural preserve in the region. Hundreds of species of birds, fox, owls, and aquatic life have found a haven here.
The question was posed as to why the people that live there do not pick up the cost, since they are the primary beneficiary of this valuable asset. Well, in fact they are big contributors. The formula for funding beach replenishment is 65% federal and the balance comes from state and local sources. The amount that is paid by local government works out to be $10 million. $5 million is paid by the residences of Fire Island, and $5 million by the rest of Long Island. Is that fair? Well, to put that into perspective. The $5million cost is shared by 17,000 people on Fire Island, and the $5million paid by the mainland is shared by 2 1/2 million people. In other words the cost to the mainlanders is minuscule, while the cost to the Fire Island residences is substantial.
Mr. Like went on to explain that there is a plan in effect right now. However the Army Corp of Engineers has yet to act on it. By virtue of earlier legislation the 100 year plan for the barrier beaches was to be completed in 1999. The plan would by, necessity, benefit the entire island in order for it to be effective. Two federal agencies have failed to act on legislation that presently exists. In the meantime nobody is letting the major recreational areas to be reclaimed by the sea, but the remedies are “band aids” and in the long run more costly that a comprehensive plan.