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Barrier Beach Civic Association History

While there was actually an active Oak Beach Civic Association in the 1940’s that dealt primarily with issues of water quality in and around Oak Beach, the modern version was formed around 1975 by three women: Jane Wilson and Mae Scalia of Oak Beach and Katherine Zutty of the Oak Island Beach Association. Initially, the purpose of the organization was to deal with the serious erosion problem that was occurring along the Inlet shoreline of both Oak Beach communities. Many thought the reason for this increased erosion was the over-dredging of the Fire Island Inlet by the US Army Corps of Engineers during this time period, an opinion later supported by two independent engineering studies. Looking back, most believe it was the lobbying efforts of this new organization that eventually resulted in the Army Corps redesigning their dredge channel area and relocating it in such a way that it no longer threatened the Oak Beach shoreline.


Nevertheless, from the very beginning, the early By-Laws stated that membership in the organization would be open “to any leaseholder in all of the six Babylon barrier beach communities: Oak Beach, Oak Island Beach Association, Captree, Oak Island (Great South Bay Isles Association), Gilgo and West Gilgo Beach Association.”



The OBCA quickly became a vehicle for concerned Oak Beach residents to deal with the emerging problems that arose from the growing popularity of the Oak Beach Inn. The ensuing battle would go on for several more decades.


Perhaps the most significant work from this era, however, came about as a result of an offshoot of the OBCA: the Ad Hoc Outer Beach Committee that dealt throughout the 1980’s with negotiating the extension of beach leases that were scheduled to expire around the turn of the century.  Two individuals from each of the six communities worked together for much of that decade to hammer out details with successive Babylon Town Boards. While Oak Island ended up working towards their own separate resolution, the entire matter was finally resolved in September of 1990 with the Town of Babylon reissuing new leases for each community that would run to the year 2050.


Although the lease matter was resolved with the Town, a separate issue that quickly arose was a lawsuit brought by NY State Secretary of State Gail Schaefer in November of 1990 to cancel the new leases on environmental grounds. Once again OBCA and the Ad Hoc Committee worked with Town and State officials, this time to persuade the State to call off the lawsuit. This was achieved, on the condition that the Town and beach residents undertake an “Environmental Study of the Barrier and Bay Island Communities”. This document, the so called “Cashin Study” costing $100,000, half of which was paid for by the residents with the other half by the Town, showed in sum that the “the six subject communities have not had large scale, adverse impacts on the barrier and bay island environment” and remains important to this day in guiding Town policy regarding the beach communities.


Following the lease renewal and law suit of the early nineties a number of issues and activities arose with which the Civic Association became involved.


One such group of activities that developed and continue to this day are the various social activities throughout the year. With the declining activity of the Oak Island Beach Yacht Club in the late 1980’s, these gatherings harken back to earlier traditions of neighborliness and fellowship, not to mention a festive party atmosphere! A spring cocktail party serves to kick off the summer season, followed in July by a Summer Parade, Barbecue and Raffle; the proceeds of which become annual donations of several hundred dollars to such organizations as the Babylon Community Scholarship Fund, Mayor E. Donald Conroy Scholarship Fund, The Babylon Fire Department, Ty’s Reef and others. (With the Oak Beach Community Center temporarily off limits pending reconstruction, the summer of 2014 found the Civic Association teaming up with Save the Beaches Fund to host a successful, combined barbecue held at West Gilgo) The last event of the year has been a Christmas Tree Lighting and Holiday Party hosted jointly by OBCA and OIBA, although postponed for two years because of the Community Center unavailability.


In 1996, a By-Laws Committee drafted a new Constitution and By-Laws to make them more relevant to the times. It was adopted and has since been amended three times in order to bring them, once again, up to date.


As a new century began, an acceptable resolution to the decades-long difficulties with the Oak Beach Inn began to take shape, but it would not be finalized until the conclusion of a complicated and somewhat stressful process over a period of two years. At one point the Inn, the park at Oak Beach and even some state land was on the verge of being sold to a developer for the construction of two large four story condominiums on the site. The possible intrusion of such a large facility totally out of character and in the midst of the neighboring Oak Beach communities was objectionable, to say the least, to the residents living there. Opposition organized by the Civic Association helped to fend off the sale until Suffolk County, largely through the efforts of Suffolk County Legislator David Bishop, purchased the land and tasked the Town with developing a park.


Unfortunately, what soon followed was a lawsuit brought by the developer against eight individuals and two associations for financial loss as a result of not being able to build the condominiums. All ended well, however, after residents’ lawyers filed a well-crafted counter suit and, in a spirit of support and cooperation, their legal fees were paid by an STBF fund for just such contingencies.


Subsequent to these events, the Town formed an Oak Beach Task force charged with conceiving a plan for park development. With OBCA participation initially in this process, the as yet undeveloped park remains an issue of concern and one that will continue to be monitored in the future by the Civic Association.


It was around this time that OBCA created a fast and cost effective method of maintaining communication with members through the establishment of a civic email list, currently reaching over 270 addresses. Later, a website was developed serving a variety of functions including a list of “service providers” to the barrier beach communities.


Following a fire in Oak Beach in 2004, the Civic Association worked with Town and County officials on measures to improve response time for emergency vehicles. In addition, in the case of the three communities comprising the East Beach Fire District (Oak Beach, Oak Island Beach Association and Captree) the Civic Association organized the installation of twenty new fire wells.


The care and maintenance of the Oak Beach Community Center was handed over to the Civic Association by Don and Suzie Hendricks around 2005, shortly before their passing. Owned by the Town, the building’s foundation had long been neglected and suffered some damage after Hurricanes Irene and Sandy. Most recently, however, with support from TOB and especially, Councilman Tony Martinez, funding is being appropriated for an ambitious reconstruction project.


In the wake of Hurricane Sandy in October of 2012 and a host of storm recovery efforts, Governor Cuomo instituted as part of his NY Rising campaign the creation of a Community Reconstruction Program and, locally, a committee to design projects to better prepare our communities for future storm events. The West Gilgo to Captree CRP Committee, comprised of State officials, planning consultants, engineers and residents from each of the six Babylon beach communities worked for over nine months to develop a plan with nine featured projects that would be funded by $3 million through the federal HUD CDBG – DR Program.


While the fate of those featured projects remains uncertain at this time, what developed as a result of the committee process was a spirit of cooperation among resident members and an opportunity to learn more about our neighboring communities. And, with an eye towards the continued welfare of those communities what soon followed was the suggestion to formally recognize and build on the original intent of the organization; namely to be a Barrier Beach Civic Association. Most would agree that while each of our communities has individual characteristics, the beach communities share a variety of common interests and issues owing not only to their location but their status as tenants of the Town of Babylon. Looking to the future, most would also agree it makes sense to have an organization which can respond to the needs of individual communities as well as the beach communities as a whole.