Making Waves: 2019 Year in Review with Fire Island News

By Shoshanna McCollum ~ A new decade will soon be upon us, and 2019 will be filed away as history. There are moments in 2019 that we here at Fire Island News will look fondly upon, while others remain memorable because their occurrence left an impact on this beach. Selected are some of the news items that we believe our coverage contributed significantly to the dialogue, and an update on what transpired since.Deer Slayers: While the nation was entrenched in a federal government shutdown, we learned that New York State Parks Department and Fire Island National Seashore (FINS) were contracting U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) sharpshooters to reduce the white-tailed deer population. Said plan was set to go forward even though a lawsuit against FINS, filed by co-plaintiffs Animal Welfare Institute in Washington D.C and Wildlife Preserves, Inc. in New Jersey, had been in U.S. Courts since 2017. Our reporting of the plan, published on Jan. 29, 2019, led the pack, with other publications following suit only after FINS released their official press statement two weeks later.Those two weeks allowed Animal Welfare Institute and Wildlife Preserves, Inc. more time to prepare a temporary restraining order to halt the culling scheduled to begin on William Floyd Estate on Feb. 20, 2019. However while their motion was being considered, USDA sharpshooters slaughtered nearly four dozen deer in five Long Island parks – 21 of them at Robert Moses. On Feb. 26, U.S. Court Eastern District Judge Sandra Feuerstein ruled to dissolve the restraining order, and culling on the historic William Floyd Estate grounds also proceeded.The original joint lawsuit is still pending in federal court. In April, FINS announced 25 deer had been killed at William Floyd – only about 30 percent of their anticipated haul of 80 animals. FINS has proclaimed plans to continue similar operations in 2020 on Fire Island proper, including but not limited to the Wilderness Area. No firm dates had been set at the time this article went to press.Cold Days for Ice Palace: Shock waves reverberated as news broke that the Brookhaven Town Fire Marshal condemned the fabled Ice Palace Nightclub on May 3, 2019. The closure also included Cherry Grove Pizza and Rainbow Gift Shop. Our website attracted heavier than normal traffic, as LGBTQ publications across the country referenced our coverage of the condemnation to separate fact from rumor.“Town officials have met with the owner several times since the order of condemnation was posted in an effort to ensure that all deficiencies are corrected and the building is safe for the public,” said Brookhaven Deputy Town Attorney Beth Reilly in a published statement. “We will continue to work with the owner in an effort to have this business opened as soon as possible, once all safety concerns are addressed.”Twenty-four hours after the release of the May 16 statement, the condemnation order was lifted, with one week to spare before Memorial Day Weekend, and 50th anniversary celebrations of Stonewall took place on Fire Island the rest of the summer without hindrance.Summer Storm Tragedy and Triumph: Fourth of July celebrations on Fire Island in 2019 were overshadowed by a tragic bayside drowning on June 30, offshore from the community of Seaview. Many were blindsided by the freak summer storm that swiftly raged over the island, causing considerable damage in its wake. Our hands were tied in the newsroom, only able to report much of the same information shared over the AP news wires, as not to compromise the identity of the victim whose name had not been released on official channels.Once her surviving family members were properly notified, we published a proper obituary two weeks later to celebrate the life of 67-year-old Barbara Langbecker so readers would know of the full life she lead before it was cut short.Heroic acts of the Altantique Marina dock staff were recognized by the Town of Islip the following month, for their bravery on this fateful day most certainly staved off additional catastrophe.Pedicab Controversy: Chatter about pedicabs on Fire Island’s west end first surfaced in the community columns, thanks to the deft observations of Kismet Columnist Bradlee White and Saltaire Village Columnist Hugh O’Brien, as well as Eye on FI Columnist Timothy Bolger’s comprehensive article, entitled “Burma Road Pedicab is New Form of FI Transportation.”A blog entitled Kismet Access, compiled by Elliott Epstein, chairman of the Exploratory Kismet Access Committee for the KCA, stated that a meeting with FINS took place in October, and further reported: “The Pedicab service will have its permits continued and expand the service they operated last year. However, the pedicab will not go past the old Kismet firehouse under any circumstances with a no tolerance policy.”Open Meetings, Closed Channel: FIN Reporter Emma Boskovski, an undergraduate at SUNY Geneseo, reported on the Ocean Beach Village Board of Trustee meetings over the summer. She covered Saltaire Village trustee meetings the summer before, sometimes taking the ferry to observe the meeting in person, other times taking advantage of their remote streaming service.A missed ferry ride in July revealed that a number of obstacles made remote coverage to the Ocean Beach meetings far less accessible than Saltaire’s, both for herself as well as the public at large.After “Fire Island Meetings Online: One Reporters Experience” was published, the Incorporated Village of Ocean Beach updated procedures so that links to online meetings are publicly visible on the home page of the village website, instead of prior limited circulation on a private Facebook group page, as had been standing practice.Driving Home the Issue: Fire Island is known as a haven without cars to many, but the facts, and politics, are way more complex than that, which is why “Fire Island Permit Holders Taken for a Ride” generated so much interest. Published less than two weeks ago, this is still very much a developing situation.However not long after the article went live on our website, calls and messages from our readers started coming in with additional information – like the fact that any permit holder who does not have an email address, or whose email was not included in the FINS Listserv, never received the Year Round Resident Driving Permit Verification form. Also holders of part-time permits, what FINS refers to as “golden permits” (also known as “old-timer” permits), cannot be one of the three signatures on the said form.At the time this article went to press, CJ’s Restaurant and Bar still plans to close its doors after New Year’s Day 2020, because denial of a winter permit presents to many feasibility issues for this establishment to operate over the winter months. A petition for CJ’s permit denial to be reconsidered is circulating on so that the tradition of Fire Island’s sole year-round gathering place may continue.