- Title: USA-STORM/SANDY Sandy's silver lining: Clean water in a polluted Long Island bay
- Date: 28th October 2014
- Summary: BREEZY POINT, NEW YORK, UNITED STATES (FILE - OCTOBER 31, 2012) (REUTERS) VARIOUS OF STREETS OF BREEZY POINT DESTROYED BY SUPERSTORM SANDY CAR CRASHED BY WOOD BEAM VARIOUS OF WOMAN PICKING UP PIECES IN BURNED OUT HOUSE
- Embargoed: 12th November 2014 12:00
- Topics: General
- Reuters ID: LVADGPFFAIUQ180PEXXOKN6O6O3C
- Story Text: Chris Soller headed across a Fire Island beach ravaged by Superstorm Sandy nearly two years ago and stopped to admire the unexpected "gift" the deadly storm left behind: water clear enough to see the sandy bottom of the long polluted bay.
The hurricane that killed at least 159 people and destroyed more than 650,000 homes when it slammed the U.S. East Coast also tore two breaches through the iconic barrier island that lies across the murky Great South Bay from New York's Long Island.
The hole that remains open is allowing the Atlantic Ocean to surge in and out of the bay, and the water near the breach is cleaner than it has been in decades.
Twice-daily tides over the last two years have flushed away suburban runoff from sewage and lawn fertilizer that sparks algal blooms known as Brown Tide and kills off underwater grass vital to marine life.
"In regard to the barrier island and the natural system and event like Hurricane Sandy can be very positive," said Soller, superintendent of Fire Island National Seashore.
"It's helped improve water quality in and around the area of the breach, it's allowed this movement of sand into the bay which is important for providing alleviation to areas of the bay to allow for the development of salt marshes," he explained.
The breach, located in a federally protected wilderness area, has remained open while government protocols are met for deciding whether to close it. Work crews closed the other breach soon after the Oct. 29, 2012 storm.
Clams that had all but disappeared in the bay - which in the 1970s supplied most of the clams for the U.S. market - appear to be making a comeback.
Soller said that along with their come-back, the breach is bringing new wildlife into the bay that was never there before.
"We have gray seals now that are in the bay that were not in the bay before, we have other predators in the bay that thrive on things like the clams. You have conch and other organisms that usually survive in the ocean that are coming into the bay."
The breach at Old Inlet bisects the slender 32-mile (51 km) long Fire Island, which is no more than 1,500 feet (457 meters) at its widest point and has a population of fewer than 500 residents year-round that swells to 10,000 in summer.
But closing the breach is exactly what Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone sought in 2013 when he asked for help from the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. He cited concerns that it caused flooding in the months after Sandy struck.
However, the U.S. Geological Survey published a study earlier this year that found the breach had nothing to do with post-Sandy coastal flooding. It placed blame on a series of severe winter storms. In fact, Soller said, storm water is draining out of the bay faster than before Sandy.
Bellone's office declined to respond to repeated requests for comment on the breach, including whether its position has changed since the USGS report.
Ultimately, the decision on whether to close the breach lies with the National Park Service, which will consult with the Army Corps and the state DEC.
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