Fire Island residents prepare for Sandy debris removal

Large piles of debris still sit on the Large piles of debris still sit on the front lawns of some of the homes in Ocean Beach before a major FEMA/Army Corps of Engineers debris clean-up of Fire Island. (Jan. 18, 2013) Photo Credit: Ed Betz

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After piling their moldy household belongings, furniture and appliances in front of their home, Melissa and Erik Reiersen went to thaw out and have lunch at one of the few businesses open in Ocean Beach on a blustery winter morning.

The same scene was repeated in front yards across the barrier island Friday. Many residents' Sandy-ravaged things are scheduled to be picked up as part of a Fire Island debris removal program that is expected to begin next week, overseen by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers with help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and local municipalities. The state recently approved $30 million for the effort.

The Reiersens are grateful -- the program is free to homeowners. "We got the letter, and it seemed like a good idea to take advantage of it," said Erik Reiersen.

Their one-story home took in several feet of flooding in the storm and sits practically gutted, waiting to be renovated. "It's one less thing we have to pay for and take care of," he said.

The couple, who also has a home in Huntington Station, submitted a right-of-entry form that will allow subcontractors to remove their debris, though they're not sure when -- the project is expected to continue until April or May, said Suffolk County spokeswoman Vanessa Baird-Streeter.

Officials "want it completed in time for the seasonal influx," when the island's beaches and bars start to overflow with tourists, she said.

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The county has received 1,500 right-of-entry forms so far, she said, enough to satisfy the Army Corps to begin the project, though she said subcontractors have not been announced. The debris removal will most likely require a combination of trucks and barges.

"There will be staging areas . . . in various communities, and from the staging area [debris] would be trucked off the island or barges would be used," she said.

Kevin Farrelly, a contractor and Ocean Beach homeowner, said he was "hemming and hawing" about submitting the right-of-entry form to have his belongings hauled off -- he doesn't want the debris piled outside his home for weeks or months.

But Elisabeth Schwerd said the removal program is a bit of good post-Sandy news. "It's very difficult on this island because everything has to be shipped out by ferry," Schwerd said. "It's creating a problem on top of a problem."

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