Schumer: Feds must fund Ocean Parkway, dune protection

Workers continue to repair damaged dune along Ocean Workers continue to repair damaged dune along Ocean Parkway. (Oct. 17, 2013) Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp

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Sen. Charles Schumer is using last weekend's damage at Gilgo Beach to demand that two federal agencies help fund long-term defenses of Ocean Parkway and the dunes that protect it.

The New York Democrat wrote to the heads of the Army Corps of Engineers and Department of Housing and Urban Development this week detailing two measures to gain funding for more engineered protections of the parkway and a regular beach replenishment program based on additional dredging of Fire Island Inlet every two years.

An offshore storm late last week tore a hole in part of the dunes that had been rebuilt after superstorm Sandy. The ocean washed over the parkway in several places during last year's storm, requiring $33 million to repair 5 miles of dune and a 2-mile stretch of road.

"The feds have invested millions in rebuilding the road, now they need to create a plan to protect it in the years to come," Schumer said Thursday.

Destruction from just a few days of heavy surf last week showed the need "to get the conversation going" about better funding for the future, he said.

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Two-part proposalSchumer's plan would require the Corps to prioritize funding for the dredging and sand placement at Gilgo and beaches to the west as part of the Fire Island to Montauk Point hurricane-protection and erosion-control project known as FIMP. It also calls for the Corps to take responsibility for it through the next 50 years.

FIMP covers five stretches of Long Island's South Shore across about 83 miles. It was first authorized by Congress in the 1960s and estimated to cost $700 million. Schumer secured full funding for the project in the congressional Sandy aid package. The Corps is drafting its final plan.

Schumer's idea "makes a lot of sense," said Joe Vietri, director of the Corps' planning center for coastal and storm risk management. "It's a fairly good approach to address the problems."

The second part of Schumer's proposal would fund road-hardening measures for the parkway in a second allocation of HUD's community development block grant funding, part of the post-Sandy federal relief package, due out soon. HUD officials declined to comment.

"Ocean Parkway is a tough decision. Barrier beaches are ephemeral places that are not stable landscapes," said Robert Pirani, vice president for energy and environmental issues with the Regional Plan Association. "When you put homes and highways that by nature are permanent on a shifting landscape you're going to have recurring problems."

East Setauket-based Bove Industries on Sunday started working around the clock to replenish 30,000 cubic yards of sand at the washouts from last week's strong surf. The ocean had gouged its way through the new dune to within 15 feet of the parkway at one spot.

The parkway was reduced to two lanes eastbound for about a mile while restoration work took place. State Department of Transportation spokeswoman Eileen Peters said the road should fully open Friday afternoon. The work was estimated to cost about $350,000. The state will seek reimbursement from the Federal Highway Administration's emergency relief fund.

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Beach stabilizerWithout the parkway, much of the barrier island would have been decimated over time because the road acts like a stabilizing spine for the beach itself, experts have said.

Charlie Bunger of West Gilgo has lived along the parkway since 1976 and acknowledged significant steps are needed to protect the road, including constant beach restoration. "To protect the mainland of Long Island, they have to do something over here -- the barrier island is at the forefront for the entire South Shore," said Bunger, who owns Bunger Surf Shop in Babylon.

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Balancing actBalancing man-made improvements and the natural environment makes efforts to maintain the beach and roadway difficult, said Robert Dennison, New York regional director for transportation design with the private firm VHB in Albany, and formerly the state DOT chief engineer.

"Ocean Parkway was one of the first parkways ever constructed," Dennison said. "And sometimes compromise is necessary on both sides -- the environment and the road -- to ensure we can preserve a facility we've all come to appreciate, need and want. The challenge is how much human intervention is acceptable and fundable."

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