When Hurricane Sandy struck Long Island it brought destruction to coastal areas and power outages throughout the region.
It also punched three breaches in barrier islands in Suffolk County, leading to the activation of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New York District’s Breach Contingency Plan - which had never actually been fully activated.
The Breach Contingency Plan is a partnership with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation that allows the Corps and the state to rapidly begin breach closure operations in the event that a barrier island is breached. It was developed in the mid 1990’s after a series of powerful storms in the early 1990’s eroded the barrier islands in Westhampton on Long Island and a 1992 storm caused a breach that took 10 months to close.
Hurricane Sandy punched a 1,500-foot-wide breach just east of Moriches Inlet in Cupsogue County Park, a 500-foot-wide breach to the west of Moriches Inlet at Smith Point County Park and a third breach in the National Park Service’s Fire Island Wilderness Area.
The primary reason for breach closure operations is public safety as closing breaches can reduce coastal storm and tidal flooding risks and overall water levels for bayside communities that lie behind the barrier islands. There are also economic reasons to close breaches as breaches can potentially impact sediment movement leading to increased shoaling in navigation channels – which occurred following aforementioned the 1992 breach and had a negative impact on local marine industries. Increased salinity from the breach connecting the bayside to the ocean has had negative impacts on the shell fishing industry in the past as well.
Through the Breach Contingency Plan, the Corps was able to work with the state of New York and Suffolk County to activate and ultimately complete breach closure operations at both Cupsogue County Park and Smith Point County Park in a matter of several weeks rather than several months.
The Cupsogue County Park work was carried out by contractor Great Lakes Dredge and Dock, which is headquartered in Oak Brook, Ill. Approximately 200,000 cubic yards of sand was dredged from nearby Moriches Inlet, pumped through a series of pipes and used to close the breach. Using sand from Moriches Inlet provided additional benefit because it helps improve navigation as well.
Work at the smaller breach at Smith Point County Park was carried out by Long Island-based contractor Village Dock. Approximately 50,000 cubic yards of sand was dredged from the nearby Long Island Intracoastal Waterway and used to close the breach.
Breach closure operations were not activated immediately at the third breach, which is on National Park Service land. The Corps and the state of New York are coordinating with National Park Service personnel and monitoring the breach.