Fire Island residents trudged through six inches of water flooding Ocean Beach at high tide on Friday while preparing for the impact of Hurricane Joaquin’s expected passing east of Long Island starting this weekend.
While many secured their homes and businesses, a few reveled despite the National Weather Service’s coastal flooding and high surf advisories for LI—forecasts that spark extra worries on FI, where the beaches remain particularly vulnerable since Sandy three years ago.
“You have people preparing as they should be,” said John Randazzo, owner of Castaways Bar & Grill, who trucked $3,000 worth of food from his five Ocean Beach eateries to freezers on LI in case the power goes out. “Then you got people who just want to have a few beers.”
LI breathed a sigh of relief when forecasters predicted it’ll be spared a direct hit, but officials remain concerned about the four barrier islands protecting LI from the Atlantic Ocean—especially FI, the largest, which remains breached and partly dune-less since the 2012 superstorm.
“I’m not worried,” Ashley Ingenito, 25, an waitress at The Albatross, said while planning hurricane parties and surfing in the above-average waves. Next to her at the bar, the owner, Ocean Beach Mayor James Mallott, fixed a broken light after leading a half dozen TV reporters around the village that’s FI’s unofficial capital.
“The ocean gives and the ocean takes away,” Mallott said while showing the press gaggle where the waves reached the foot of the makeshift dune made of sand berms, trap bags and geotubes. “We’re still waiting for sand to be replenished on the beach, which is… crucial to our survival here on Fire Island.”
The mayor was flanked by Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, who said the partly completed $207-million Fire Island Inlet to Moriches Inlet (FIMI) project is expected to resume in the coming weeks. The east end of FI was rebuilt earlier this year, the second phase is slated this fall to rebuild the beach on the west end of the island and the residential middle won’t begin until litigation ends. The Suffolk public works department is currently negotiating with about 20 oceanfront FI property owners in the 17 communities that face buyouts and potential condemnation to make way for the new Sandy-aid-funded replacement dune.
“We have to expedite the FIMI project…to restore this dune line to make sure the barrier beach is being protected,” Bellone told reporters while waves crashed behind him during a news conference at Robert Moses State Park. “This place is not only a national treasure, it is vital to the protection of the south shore.”
The county executive noted that he doesn’t plan to order an evacuation of FI and a spokeswoman for PSEG Long Island said that there are no plans to preemptively cut power to there, as it has done in hurricanes past. But Bay Shore-based Fire Island Ferries, the biggest of three companies that serve the public to the mostly car-free island, suspended service starting Sunday while the other two in Sayville and Patchogue are taking it day by day. All eyes will remain on the south shore until the storm passes.