LGBTQ community members call on feds to protect Fire Island Pines from erosion

The beach along Fire Island in The Pines has eroded significantly since April 2020.
The beach along Fire Island in The Pines has eroded significantly since April 2020.
Isaac Namdar

Isaac Namdar has spent the past 21 years summering on the Fire Island Pines, a beach neighborhood off the coast of Long Island and historically an LGBTQ community. Throughout that time he’s used his camera to document its community and natural beauty. 

He has seen the beach’s size ebb and flow over the years, as its sand eroded away and was replenished by the local community. In 2020, after a massive restoration project by the US Army Corps of Engineers, “it was the size of a football field,”  recalled Namdar, a doctor and amateur photographer. 

In the years since then, the beach has eroded to the narrowest Namdar has ever seen. He has used drone photography to capture the changing landscape over the course of three years.

“It’s kind of upsetting, but I think it’s important to document,” he said. “I’m glad to do my part; I just wish it didn’t need documenting.” 

The Army Corps of Engineers in 2019 began a project to restore the beaches along Long Island’s southern coastline, including Fire Island, from damage caused by Superstorm Sandy in 2012. The over $200 million project pumped tons of sand onto the beaches. 

Since then, the beaches on Fire Island have eroded, due in part to damage caused by recent storms — Elliot in late 2021, and tropical storm Ophelia and hurricane Lee in September 2023. The Army Corps has so far not answered calls from elected officials, community advocates, and state agencies to allocate funds for emergency repairs, according to advocates from the Fire Island Pines. The community used to pay for their own beach replenishment every few years, but now they say they are unable to take action themselves, as its maintenance is now under the federal government’s purview. 

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) sent a letter on Dec. 1 to the Army Corps stating that “the severity of the damage and the public safety risk warrant immediate repair.” 

This follows calls from politicians, including US Senator Chuck Schumer of New York,, to replenish the beaches. 

As the New York Post reported, Schumer wrote in a Sept. 25 letter, “Major erosion also occurred along Fire Island’s beaches, and emergency repair is particularly needed in the eastern Fire Island communities where the beachfront has diminished and USACE assistance is critical to protecting them from future storm events.” 

In response to a request for comment from Gay City News, James D’Ambrosio, public affairs specialist at the Army Corps, said the federal agency is reviewing the DEC’s letter. 

“We look forward to working with our partners on all levels to continue to find ways to mitigate the effects of coastal storms and increase resiliency,” he wrote in an emailed statement. 

Henry Robin, president of the Fire Island Pines Owners Association, told Gay City News he is concerned that his community could be lost if the Army Corps doesn’t take action.

“The beach is in the worst condition I have ever seen, and I’ve been going out for 25 years,” he said. 

Robin is leading a petition directed to the Army Corps to “save Fire Island’s beaches.” It has garnered over 11,000 signatures. 

Among other concerns, Robin worries that firefighters, who use the beach to travel from one community on the island to another, would not be able to quickly respond to an emergency. 

Fire Island is an important place for Robin, who said it is where he found the freedom to be his true self. He started coming to the Pines after relocating from Chicago.

 “As soon as I landed on Wall Street, I went back in the closet at work,” he said. “But I could come to the Pines and be true to myself. I ended up meeting my husband there. We married on the beach 11 years ago, right after it became legal in New York State.” 

Now, however, he added, “Our wedding could not even take place in the spot where it happened 11 years ago, because there isn’t enough beach.” 

Namdar, the photographer, shared a similar story. 

The Pines is “paradise,” he said. “It’s the place where I first fell in love with my future husband. It’s the place I was proposed to. This is where you let your hair down, where you can be yourself and you can just enjoy nature and enjoy friendship. It’s all about randomly seeing people down the walkway saying hi, getting invited to cocktails, getting invited to dinners, going to high tea, low tea, hanging out with friends.”