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FINS Crafts New Vision for Seashore
Scoping, Planning to Take Until 2010
By David Crohn

From mosquitoes to zoning to nude beaches, the Fire Island National Seashore has its work cut out as it begins to revamp the General Management Plan (GMP) for Fire Island, the all-encompassing outline for stewardship the National Park Service uses to maintain and guide the future of the island.

FINS launched the GMP process last Saturday in Ocean Beach, at an open gathering in the community house. Attendees were invited to literally bring their thoughts to the table by writing down concerns and suggestions on a large, rolled out piece of paper.

It was the beginning of a procedure expected to take until 2010, said Superintendent Mike Reynolds. Planning, environmental and regulatory issues will be considered, and experts from several fields have been hired as consultants to guide the process.

“It’s about shared stewardship, finding more and better ways to protect the seashore,” said Reynolds. He described this first phase as “the easy part,” a give and take in which the park service educates people and hears their input. “The hard part will be figuring out the model of how we live together, and how we thrive together.”

If you missed the one in Ocean Beach, future public GMP meetings are planned in coming weeks up and down the island, from Watch Hill to the Lighthouse. For a full schedule, go to www.nps.gov/fiis.

At the meetings and on its web site, the park service is distributing informational flyers and encouraging people to contact them with feedback. While things like curbing the deer population and helping communities plan better are foremost in people’s minds, the Seashore is allowing comments about anything and everything Fire Island related.

“We’re creating an enormous laundry list of what we want to address,” said Project Manager Robin Lepore. “Although we already have a process in place, it’s important to keep listening.”

That list will be winnowed down in coming years, as park service planners and consultants consider not just what should be done, but what can be done, Lepore said. The park service will be able to apply some of the changes, but others will require additional or revised legislation at the state, federal and local levels.

Seashore representatives said the following topics are already on the agenda:

*Driving

*Deer, mosquitoes and ticks

*Erosion

*Zoning

*The Fire Island to Montauk

Point Reformulation Study

*Threatened and endangered

species such as the plover

*National Park Service facilities

*Fishing

*The William Floyd Estate

*Transportation/access/vehicles

*Smith Point

*Nude beaches

*”Interpretive themes/stories to

tell”

*Trash removal and waste

management

As FINS delves in, “We will try to think outside of the box and look for new ways to approach everything,” said Lepore. “What we’ve done before hasn’t always worked.”

And the timing couldn’t be better, according to Reynolds. The GMP has not been revised since 1977. The National Seashore was established in 1964, and it’s typical for GMPs to be revised every 15 to 20 years.

“We need this badly,” he said. “We’re dealing with managing a place based on a plan that dates to 1977. We’re lacking new thinking for the 21st century and using a lot of old tools,” Reynolds added, referring to old legislation that doesn’t account for jet skiing and increased car traffic.

Reynolds said that while driving on the island has always been a contentious issue, more contractors than ever have asked for vehicle access in recent years, not just to build houses but to install satellite television and high-end stereo systems.

The new GMP is being made possible with funding from Congress, which finally came in earlier this year. While each of the 390 national sites in the country has a GMP, funding for them is down overall, and only a few get funded each year.

“Our turn is finally up,” said Reynolds. The first request was made by the park service about six years ago.

Reynolds said Congress’s release of $700,000—to be issued and spent over the critical first three to four years of the process—was helped along by the Army Corps’ recent announcement that it was close to completing the Fire Island to Monatuk Point Reformulation Study (FIMP). The FIMP is a long-range plan for storm preparedness and beach building across the island.

In addition to soliciting public input, the national park service will collect and analyze field data in the coming year. The Seashore’s purpose and significance will be determined “relative to the intent of Congress,” according to a statement released by FINS.

In 2008, a range of options will be developed, along with a preliminary environmental impact statement (EIS). A first draft of the GMP and the EIS will be published in 2009 and made available for public review for two months. By 2010, after an additional period of public review, and following approval from the superintendent and the national park service’s Northeast Regional Director, the GMP is expected to be complete.