Officials: Army Corps to restore Fire Island beach

Park Service Ranger MaryLaura Lamont led a group Park Service Ranger MaryLaura Lamont led a group on a winter's walk on the barrier beach of Fire Island to identify changes of the landscape created by Superstorm Sandy. (Feb. 24, 2013) Photo Credit: Randee Daddona

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Several Islip Town and Fire Island village officials say the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers appears poised to take on a massive beach replenishment project that would restore the barrier island's dunes, decimated by superstorm Sandy.

At an Ocean Beach Village board meeting Saturday, Mayor James Mallott said the Army Corps is planning to step in to build dunes 15 feet high by 90 feet wide from Kismet to Davis Park, with the entire project paid for by the federal government.

"We're very happy about it," Mallott told residents.

Islip Town Supervisor Tom Croci said he and other town officials have had several meetings with representatives from the Army Corps to discuss the project and his understanding is that the Corps "intended to engage with the beach replenishment, and that they had been funded to do so."

Saltaire Mayor Robert Cox told residents at Monday's village board meeting it was "more and more likely" the Army Corps would take over the islandwide renourishment.

An Army Corps spokesman said Saturday the scope of the project doesn't fall under the agency's current legal authority, but that new legal authorities for the Corps could stem from the recently passed Sandy relief bill, adding that the bill "is still being interpreted by our higher headquarters."

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The Islip Town board voted in January to bond for $19.9 million for the town's share of Fire Island beach and dune renourishment, which Croci said was a backup plan if the Corps doesn't step in.

"But it looks like the Army Corps is proceeding, and it's really good news for Fire Island and for Islip," Croci said.

But the mayors of both Fire Island villages said that while the federal government's involvement is welcome, it comes at a price: Mallott and Cox said the project would result in the oceanfront dune line being moved north, which would mean losing an undetermined number of homes.

Mallott said the Fire Island National Seashore was on board with the project, and has been meeting with the Corps to discuss where the new dune line would be.

A spokeswoman for FINS said Superintendent Christopher Soller has been meeting with the Army Corps on a variety of projects. Soller was not available for comment Saturday.

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Cox said the federal government "might decide the dune line is farther north than we'd like it to be."

Mallott said it's unclear at this point how far north the dune line will advance, but that it would be worth losing houses to get the beach renourishment completed at no local cost.

"The consensus is that houses on Fire Island would have to go," Mallott said. "How many, we're not sure. We're going to lose houses if we want to get that sand. We have one shot at this."

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