Half a century in the making, an $800-million plan to fund storm protection and shoreline management along 83 miles of Suffolk's South Shore will be entirely funded by the federal government under the Sandy aid package.
The project, which first was authorized by legislation in the 1960s but languished in part because of a lack of funding, will provide for beach rebuilding, dune construction, road raising, home elevations and other erosion-control steps from Fire Island Inlet to Montauk Point -- at no local cost.
A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers report to be distributed to federal lawmakers on Monday lists it among projects eligible for 100 percent federal funding as part of the aid package, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said. The report also authorizes 100 percent federal funding of a storm protection plan for Long Beach. A recent estimate put that project's cost at about $150 million.
The inclusion of both projects for full federal funding was confirmed by a federal official familiar with the matter.
Schumer said full funding "will provide the proper protection needed for homes, roads and the entire barrier island system which has been a dream of Long Islanders for decades."
Fire Island Association president Suzy Goldhirsch described the funding decision as "historic."
Goldhirsch, a Babylon native who has owned a home on Fire Island for 40 years, said full federal funding will "mean relief for residents in some of the most flood-prone areas along the Long Island South Shore. . . . "This brings a regional approach to shore management that includes stabilizing the Moriches, Shinnecock and Fire Island inlets so the barrier islands are better placed to protect Long Island's South Shore," she said.
Chris Soller, superintendent for the Fire Island National Seashore, said the plan, though not finalized, could involve elevating bulkheads, streets, bridges and houses, and possible relocation of some public facilities from low-lying areas.
"The key is a range of measures -- both for Long Island and the barrier islands -- not just houses and infrastructure, but also restoring marshlands to improve natural drainage processes that enable better protection during the nor'easters that routinely impact us here," said Soller.
"This will give us a chance to be smarter in our approach so we don't have to keep repeatedly doing the same work every few years," he said.
Brookhaven Town Supervisor Ed Romaine, whose administration had begun exploring beach restoration options relying on local tax hikes, said residents in impacted areas would now save thousands of dollars in their annual town tax bills. Islip Town adopted a similar approach.Long Beach City Manager Jack Schnirman said the prospect of a fully federally funded project is "a huge win" for the city's effort to protect its beachfront. "Our city council looks forward to working with all stakeholders."
Babylon Town Supervisor Richard Schaffer called the federal assistance "sorely needed in our hard-hit communities, as residents are struggling to find the funding to raise their homes and protect against future flooding. Replenishing our beaches and dunes will also go a long way toward lessening the effects of future storms, like the storm and its after-effects that we just experienced the past few days."
Schumer, fellow Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Reps. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) and Peter King (R-Seaford) had lobbied to have full federal funding of the measure included in the $51-billion Sandy aid package, but the final version of the legislation left open to interpretation whether the project would require local dollars.
Only projects considered "ongoing construction" can qualify for 100 percent funding under the Sandy legislation. Otherwise, funding for storm protection projects will be split, with the federal government paying 65 percent and the remainder coming from state or local governments.
Schumer pressed officials to view the Suffolk shoreline project as an ongoing project.