Suffolk official: Fire Island buyout talks six months away

Aerial views showing debris from destroyed oceanfront homes

Aerial views showing debris from destroyed oceanfront homes on Davis Park, Fire Island after superstorm Sandy on Oct. 31, 2012. (Credit: John Roca)

Dozens of Fire Islanders facing buyouts may have to wait another six months before they learn how much the federal government wants to pay them to demolish their oceanfront homes in order to build dunes.

Suffolk Public Works Commissioner Gilbert Anderson said the county first must finish surveys that will determine precisely how much land will be needed for the project.

"There's a potential it could be until December until we really start formal discussions with landowners," Anderson said Friday.


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That timetable assumes that local, state and federal contracts clearing the way for the storm-protection work are finalized by the end of August.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which will build the 15-foot-high dune, is proposing to pay $46 million for the 41 homes slated for demolition.

In revised cost estimates, the agency now is penciling in $12 million for more than 400 easements that will be sought from property owners, up from $5 million, said spokesman Christopher Gardner.

The Army Corps needs these easements -- and another 300 from localities -- to bring in equipment and protect the dunes from decks, pools or other structures.

The agency's total real estate budget for the project has increased from $56 million to nearly $80 million, including added demolition and easement costs, Gardner said. The total includes the cost of moving six homes back on their lots, relocation assistance and administration.

Suffolk will have to include the revisions in a bill that will allow the project to go forward. The county legislature plans a July 29 vote, Anderson said.

The Army Corps plan, first envisioned in the 1960s, aims to shield the barrier island and Suffolk's South Shore from powerful storms. Thousands of mainland homes in chronic flood zones would be raised. Natural buffers, such as wetlands, would be restored.

Though the Fire Island dune project was advanced before the plan for the mainland, it is almost a year behind schedule. That heightens the risk violent storms will strike before the dunes are finished -- perhaps in 2015.

Yet the 41 Fire Islanders cannot sell their homes because they might be condemned. Some owners are speeding repairs because the federal government only pays current appraised prices, not the pre-Sandy values they were told to expect.

If buyouts are challenged in court, Anderson said tentative plans call for Suffolk to pick up 70 percent of any added costs, with the state covering the rest.

A spokesman for the Department of Environmental Conservation, the lead state agency, had no immediate comment.

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