Sandy relief fund eyed for Asharoken beach restoration

Waves beat the seawall on Asharoken Avenue as Waves beat the seawall on Asharoken Avenue as superstorm Sandy nears Long Island. (Oct. 29, 2012) Photo Credit: Peter Walden Sr.

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Asharoken is much closer to getting the long-awaited protection of its main access road after this week's U.S. House of Representatives' passage of the Sandy relief bill.

For years, officials have argued that the estimated $30 million beach and shoreline restoration project is critical for the safety of Asharoken Avenue and area residents. The work, which could include creating new dunes and depositing sand onshore, is one of many slated to be funded by the Sandy bill, according to the office of Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.)

"There is no doubt that the road is at risk of being destroyed should we have a major storm," said Mayor Gregory Letica recently in a letter to several elected officials calling for the restoration and stressing its importance to Asharoken and neighboring Eatons Neck. Asharoken Avenue, shut down briefly during Sandy, is the only access to Eatons Neck.

"These people need a road [that] they count on to be open," he also said in a telephone interview.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, in both approved versions of the bill, was appropriated $5.4 billion, which would fund the Asharoken project, Schumer's office said. The office estimated the restoration would cost $30 million, including a feasibility study.

Two other village projects could also get funding from the relief bill -- its current seawall repairs and the Federal Highway Administration's plans for a smaller-scale dune restoration in the near future.

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While the project isn't a done deal, it appears headed for approval. The Senate Tuesday will vote again on the bill, which then needs final approval of the president, and then the Corps, lawmakers said.

"I am looking forward to seeing this project commence after many years," Letica said, adding the Army Corps and the state Department of Environmental Conservation have been talking about restoring Asharoken Beach for at least a decade, including starting a feasibility study. Now, officials are thrilled to see the project finally gaining momentum.

"What were once vegetated dunes prior to Sandy are just piles of sand, and the contour of the beach allows the water to easily reach the littoral side of the piles," Letica stated.

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Army Corps spokesman Chris Gardner said in a statement that it was "too early for anyone at the Corps to speculate on the direct impacts to any specific project if a Sandy bill passes."

He said they did provide rough estimates for various ongoing coastal storm risk management studies and projects "that were likely used in the drafting of Hurricane Sandy relief legislation currently in Congress," including its ongoing Asharoken coastal storm risk management study with the state Department of Environmental Conservation. The study, which began in 2001, is looking at various areas, including beach renourishment.He said the study has been delayed over the years due to cost and environmental issues.

"This project has been years in the making, and with this legislation and the timely approvals of state permits, it can finally get done," said Schumer in a statement.

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