Feds: Environmental assessment drafted for Fire Island dunes

An aerial shot of Fire Island and a

An aerial shot of Fire Island and a look at the destruction caused by superstorm Sandy on Oct. 31, 2012. Photo Credit: Doug Kuntz

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The public will get a chance to comment on Fire Island's emergency dune-rebuilding project in early March, now that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and U.S. Interior Department have agreed on "refinements" to the plan, officials said.

Releasing the draft environmental assessment is a critical step in securing $140 million in federal money to build 15-foot-high protective dunes on the barrier island.

The Army Corps and Interior "have reached agreement on project refinements that meet the objectives of coastal storm risk reduction and environmental protection, allowing for the completion of the draft environmental assessment for the project," the agencies said in a joint release Friday.

An Army Corps spokesman had no further details. A spokeswoman for Interior, which is involved because of the Fire Island National Seashore, could not be reached.

New York State and the Army Corps can't complete their contract until public comments on the environmental assessment have been reviewed and incorporated. The same holds true for the contract the state must sign with its local partner, Suffolk County.

Superstorm Sandy flattened Fire Island's dunes in October 2012, and the lengthy planning process for rebuilding them meant homeowners on the South Shore and on Fire Island faced increased hazards during last year's hurricane season.

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U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) have pressed agencies to work swiftly so that dredging might begin this summer -- at least on publicly owned lands east and west of Fire Island.

That's a fairly tight schedule given the number of approvals needed for the dune project, part of a more ambitious federal plan to protect the 83-mile coastline that runs from Fire Island to Montauk Point. The centerpiece of that plan is spending $500 million to raise thousands of South Shore homes in flood zones.

The public comment period for the Fire Island draft environmental assessment could last about 30 days.

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