Cuomo backs project to bolster South Shore

Erosion damage caused by superstorm Sandy in front Erosion damage caused by superstorm Sandy in front of homes along Soundview Drive in Montauk on Nov. 19, 2012. Photo Credit: Gordon M. Grant

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Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has thrown his support behind a $700 million, large-scale, federally funded project that will upgrade natural and man-made storm protections along 83 miles of Suffolk's South Shore from Fire Island Inlet to Montauk Point.

The project, half a century in the making, is the largest of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' construction and flood control measures funded by the Sandy aid package that Congress passed earlier this year.

In what's regarded by the Army Corps as an unprecedented undertaking, the project provides for a range of protective measures along the entire Suffolk South Shore from beach rebuilding, dune construction to road raising, home elevations and other erosion-control steps -- all at no local cost. Making structures more resilient and elevating up to 4,000 that are flood-prone along the South Shore are focal parts of the project, officials have said.

Initial phases of the project are set to include expedited emergency repairs to restore dunes and beaches on Fire Island, but exactly when construction will start is unclear -- the Corps is working with New York State to refine aspects of the project and complete an environmental review.

In a statement Friday, Cuomo said the project would protect local communities and residents against future storms, shoring up defenses in coastal areas. It would also address the immediate need to restore beaches and upgrade dunes, reducing potential risks to families and property as a result of storm surges along the South Shore.

"Not only is this area important to local tourism and the economy, it is also a critical natural barrier protecting the inland," the governor said. "This stretch of beaches . . . suffered extensive damage caused by superstorm Sandy and now we are taking steps to build it back stronger and better prepared to withstand future storms."

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), a persistent advocate for the project and who worked to get sufficient funding for it in the Sandy aid package, said Cuomo's support would ensure it could now move forward.

"State approval was one of the final steps we need to take to turn this project, long a dream of coastal communities on the South Shore of Long Island, into a reality," Schumer said."Homeowners and residents along this 83-mile stretch can feel a little more secure knowing that vital protections, in the forms of dunes, berms, beaches and more, will now be constructed."

The project was first authorized by legislation in the 1960s but languished in part because of a lack of funding and differing views over approaches to shoreline management between the state Department of Environmental Control and the Army Corps.

A key breakthrough came when Sandy hit Oct. 29 and the subsequent aid package enabled 100 percent federal funding.

Since then, and most recently in an open letter to the Army Corps and state DEC earlier this month, Schumer, fellow New York Democrat Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) pressed the state and the Army Corps' New York district to agree on the project's scope so it can get under way. The funding faces competition because while the federal package provided the money, no one project is earmarked in the bill.

The secretaries of both the Army and the Interior must also sign off on the final plan.

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