The dredging of Moriches Bay, part of a $6 million effort to repair a 1,000-foot-wide breach in the barrier island that opened up at Cupsogue Beach County Park during Superstorm Sandy late last month, got under way late last week.
State Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens, at a press conference held at the park located on the western end of Dune Road on Friday, November 16, and attended by a host of state and local officials, said federal funds would cover 65 percent of the cost of the project, with most of the remaining amount to be paid by the state and a smaller portion by Suffolk County. The project was expedited by the DEC’s Breach Contingency Plan that was developed in the early 1990s after a breach destroyed more than 100 homes in what is now the Village of West Hampton Dunes.
Under the plan, the state signed a contract with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which hired the Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Company in Illinois, to dredge sand from Moriches Inlet and deposit it into the breach at Cupsogue, the largest of three breaches caused by Superstorm Sandy. The breach in the park lies just east of the eastern jetty of Moriches Inlet; another smaller breach occurred at Smith Point County Park in Shirley, to west of the Moriches Inlet’s western jetty, and a third was discovered on Fire Island near Bellport.
“I’m stunned to see that dredge here no less than 12 days after we noticed [the breach],” West Hampton Dunes Mayor Gary Vegliante said on Friday. “It’s just an incredible feat.”
The dredge in place at Cupsogue Beach County Park is the same one that was set to remove roughly 300,000 tons of sand from the Shinnecock Inlet in Hampton Bays in early November, prior to the superstorm, and pump it onto beaches that were severely eroded by Hurricane Irene in 2011. Officials said they were able to postpone that work until after the breach at Cupsogue is closed, a process that is expected to take about two weeks.
Mr. Martens estimated that 200,000 cubic yards of sand from Moriches Bay will be needed to close the breach at Cupsogue and raise the area by about 10 feet. Water in the center of the breach is currently about 4 feet deep at high tide. It will take approximately 50,000 cubic yards of sand from the Long Island Intracoastal Waterway and $1.24 million to fill the estimated 150-foot-wide breach at Smith Point, he said. Officials did not release the name of the company that would complete that dredging project, as the contract was not complete. The National Park Service, meanwhile, is assessing whether the breach on Fire Island needs to be closed.
“It worked exactly how it was designed to work,” U.S. Army Corps New York District Commander Paul Owen said of the DEC’s Breach Contingency Plan.
If left alone, water coming through the breach at Cupsogue would raise the bay levels, making the bordering communities more prone to flooding, Mr. Martens said. It could also compromise the structural integrity of the nearby jetty and have a number of effects on the bay’s plant and marine life, he added.
“This protects what lies behind here,” Southampton Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst said of the barrier island during Friday’s press conference. “And if this goes, what lies behind this will go as well.”
Though Cupsogue Beach County Park lies just over the border in the Town of Brookhaven, Ms. Throne-Holst said the damage caused by Superstorm Sandy was a “call to action” for all municipalities to work together on a comprehensive plan to protect the beaches. She also used the opportunity to push for the completion of the long-overdue Fire Island to Montauk Point Reformulation Study, better known as FIMPS, which is supposed to craft solutions to curb erosion.
Additionally, she cast off criticisms that altering nature by filling in the breach and bolstering the beaches would have negative consequences. “That just can’t be part of the discussion here,” she said.
Mr. Martens said it would be about two weeks before the project was complete and the breach closed, although he said the DEC and the Army Corps of Engineers have begun discussions on how to restore the barrier island to its pre-storm state. The added sand will close the breach, but it will not protect it from another storm with the strength of Sandy. “It’s an initial step, but it’s a big step,” he said.
After last week’s press conference, Ms. Throne-Holst traveled with Mr. Martens to the Shinnecock Inlet to discuss the $3.9 million dredging project that is now set to begin after the breach at Cupsogue is closed. That project, which has the dual purpose of removing an estimated 300,000 tons of sand from the inlet that connects Shinnecock Bay with the Atlantic and bolstering eroded beaches to the west of the waterway, has taken on new urgency following Superstorm Sandy. Ms. Throne-Holst said she asked Mr. Martens and Army Corps of Engineers officials to consider expanding the area where the pumped out sand will be dumped so it also includes an additional 4,000 feet of beach to the west of the Tiana Beach pavilion. Federal officials have not yet responded to her request.