Fire Island sand dunes destroyed by Hurricane Sandy

We had the good fortune of spending a few days on Fire Island about ten years ago. A friend rented a house out there in the summer, and he invited us to join him while passing through New York. When you’re there, it’s hard to believe that NYC is so close because it feels like it’s the other side of the world.

No cars, just boardwalks to get around, and deer running between the houses. It’s a very idyllic and restful place. Or at least it was, until Hurricane Sandy blew through.

The well-maintained sand dunes were easily wiped away by Sandy, though Fire Island “only” lost 9 homes, with another 200 reportedly damaged out of 4,000. As they prepare to rebuild the dunes, there’s a debate over who should fund the building project.

Fire Island sand dune via Shutterstock

As we’ve seen over and over, everyone wants something from the federal government, and rightly so. Although Republicans like to pretend that it’s just the poor, inner-city non-whites who want stuff, that’s completely false.

In the case of New York, they give much more than they receive with federal money, so it’s hard to see why there’s even a debate. Many of the southern states that are regularly hit by hurricanes consistently receive much more than they pay into the system. They’re also the ones who don’t believe in climate change, who are against federal money being given (to anyone but themselves), and who talk smugly about the Bible and how God will provide.  Then want the government to provide what God inevitably fails to fork over.

Fire Island needs help, and the island should receive it. It’s hard to see how rebuilding Fire Island is any different than rebuilding other hurricane hit areas in the south. The only difference that stands out is that a few of the communities on Fire Island are predominantly gay and lesbian retreats, which will probably be an issue with the hateful Republicans.

New Yorkers who cherish Fire Island as an idyllic summertime getaway feared the worst when the 32-mile-long barrier island took a direct hit from Superstorm Sandy’s powerful surge. The wall of water swamped nearly the entire island, destroyed or washed away about 200 homes and scraped sand dunes down to nothing.
Still, residents are counting their blessings.

That’s because more than 4,000 structures survived, at least enough to be repaired. And some are crediting the carefully maintained wall of dunes, ranging from 10 to 20 feet tall, with taking the brunt of the storm’s fury.

“The dunes were demolished, but without their protection it would have been much worse,” said Malcolm Bowman, a professor of physical oceanography at Stony Brook University.

Closer to New York City, sand dunes may be less likely to rebuilt though there are some calling for the return of oyster beds, to help stop or slow the next storm surge. Much like the way coral reefs help in tropical areas, oyster beds traditionally softened the blow of storms and some New Yorkers are working on bringing them back.

New York is likely to have more Sandy-like storms in coming years and whether it’s oyster beds, sand dunes or some other replica of what Mother Nature used to provide, something needs to be done.


An American in Paris, France. BA in History & Political Science from Ohio State. Provided consulting services to US software startups, launching new business overseas that have both IPO’d and sold to well-known global software companies. Currently launching a new cloud-based startup. Full bio here.

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