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For Release: Thursday, March 14, 2013

DEC Requests Army Corp to Start Planning and Contracting Process to Close Fire Island Breach

Move Allows Closure Process to Begin While DEC Consults with Experts to Help Determine if Breach Should be Closed

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) today requested the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers (Corp) to take preliminary steps to prepare to implement closure of the breach at the Fire Island National Seashore's Federal Wilderness Area at Old Inlet, DEC Commissioner Joe Martens announced. The request follows up on an agreement reached yesterday among the Breach Contingency Team to begin the procurement process to hire a contractor to close the breach, which was created by Superstorm Sandy. This will allow expedited closure of the breach in the event that the breach does not close naturally or if the Breach Contingency Team determines closure to be necessary after evaluating potential impacts to communities, potential for improved water quality of Great South Bay and benefits to habitat resulting from the breach.

"Like local residents, DEC shares concerns about flooding on Long Island and we want to make sure the solution fits the problem. DEC is consulting with coastal experts about the breach to help to determine the best course of action based on science," DEC Commissioner Martens said. "The agreement among the Breach Contingency Team will allow closure preparation work to take place while providing time to see if the breach closes naturally and to consult with experts on the impacts of closure. If the breach does not close naturally, the closure process will be much further along in the process allowing the Team to act more quickly to close the breach if that is deemed necessary."

The Breach Contingency Plan, developed in 1996 under agreement between Breach Contingency Team members, DEC, Corp and National Park Service, provides special provisions for breaches which occur in the federal wilderness area. The Plan calls for monitoring breaches in wilderness areas to determine if natural closure will occur. If natural closure does not occur, or if there is an increase in tidal ranges within Great South Bay that can potentially flood communities on the south shore of Long Island or Fire Island, the Plan calls for the breach to be closed.

Superstorm Sandy created three breaches across Fire Island. These breaches enabled the tidal exchange of water in an area that had previously been land. The Corp and DEC authorized the closure of breaches at Cupsogue County Park and Smith Point County Park, which were completed in November and December 2012 respectively, pursuant to the BCP and due to concerns about additional storm damages to communities and park space. Under the guidelines of the Plan, the Breach Contingency Team is monitoring the breach in the National Seashore.

DEC continues its close collaboration with the Breach Contingency Team and is closely monitoring and evaluating the data with the Team in order to reach a decision based on science on whether or not to close the breach.

The recent expansion of the breach, however, was expected at this time of year. At this point, there is no conclusive indication that the breach has affected tidal ranges or has impacted Long Island. Sand or beach accretion to close or narrow the breach generally occurs in the summer when the beaches start accumulating sand.

To view DEC's letter to the Corp, visit: http://www.dec.ny.gov/docs/administration_pdf/wildernessareabreach.pdf.

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