Fire Island dune rebuilding to begin in January

The rebuilding of Fire Island dunes ravaged by superstorm Sandy will begin in January, marking the start of a $700 million flood-control project shielding the South Shore, federal officials said Thursday.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the National Park Service have committed to the winter start, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a joint statement with Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton).

The first phase of the Fire Island to Montauk Point project builds 13 miles of dunes on the barrier island and offers similar protections for downtown Montauk.

PHOTOS: Fire Island after Sandy | Aerial view of Sandy damage

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Preliminary plans for the project also call for raising about 4,400 South Shore homes, elevating some coastal roads and rebuilding wetlands and other natural buffers. The federally funded project -- on the drawing boards for decades -- would take several years to complete.

"This January we're finally going to start seeing shovels in the ground -- and protective dunes rising -- after more than 50 years of planning," Schumer said Thursday.

Dune construction will start at Smith Point County Park within the Fire Island National Seashore, officials said.

To complete the 15-foot-high dune line, Suffolk and New York State must secure easements from about 200 homeowners this winter, preferably by Christmas, said Joseph Vietri, chief of planning and policy for the Army Corps' North Atlantic Division. The list of needed easements has been in the state's hands for about a month, he said.

About 30 homes -- most of them located in Davis Park and Ocean Bay Park -- have also been targeted for buyouts because they stand in the path of the new dune, Vietri said.

"Homeowners are anxious to know what's going on," said Skip Iwanski, who doesn't think his Davis Park property will be affected.

State officials say homeowners won't be notified of requests for easements and voluntary buyouts until an agreement with the Army Corps is approved.

"We have all the cars lined up ready for the race; we're waiting to put gas in the cars," said Jay C. Juergensen, senior adviser in the governor's storm-recovery office.

Vanessa Baird-Streeter, a spokeswoman for Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, said the county is still working out partnership details with the state. "It also hasn't been determined that acquisitions will be a local responsibility," she said.

The Army Corps, meanwhile, presented flood-control options for Montauk to the Town of East Hampton at a public meeting Thursday.

One plan calls for adding groins and a 15-foot-high dune with a 90-foot-wide beach, which could require relocating hotels and other businesses. The simplest option would nourish beaches with 120,000 cubic yards of sand.

Town Supervisor William Wilkinson said the dune idea seems viable, but new groins could worsen erosion in other areas and relocating oceanfront businesses isn't economically feasible. Wilkinson said he hopes the town chooses an option by November or December.

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