A project to reconstruct a deteriorating road along Oyster Bay Harbor that seemed destined for quick approval by Nassau County has been stalled by questions about who owns the roadway and the crumbling seawall that supports it.
A $7.97-million contract for the first of three phases of reconstruction of the 2-mile-long West Shore Road in Mill Neck, along with a $771,000 contract for construction management and a $253,368 contract for construction inspection, were pulled from the county legislature's agenda last week by Presiding Officer Peter Schmitt.
Schmitt cited a still-unanswered question raised at a hearing last fall by an assistant county attorney about whether the seawall was on county property or belonged to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which owns the adjacent Oyster Bay National Wildlife Refuge.
"Why would the county be fixing it if it's the federal government's?" Schmitt spokeswoman Christina Brennan asked. "Why is the county attorney's office not following up?"
Long Island National Wildlife Refuge Complex manager Michelle Potter said the agency only owns the wetlands below the high tide line. "It's definitely not ours," she said.
Brennan also said some county officials have said the road is on private properties, so the county would have to condemn it to fix it.
That was a surprise to local officials who have been pushing for rehabilitation of the road before it collapses and noted the county has maintained both the road and seawall for decades.
"I hope that's not true," said Bayville Mayor Doug Watson, who said rebuilding the road, one of two access routes into his village, is critically important.
When Schmitt refused to bring the contracts up for a vote, county spokeswoman Katie Grilli-Robles said in a statement, "The county executive's office directed the county attorney's office to meet with Fish and Wildlife and the DEC [state Department of Environmental Conservation] to determine ownership of the wall. This project remains a priority . . . "
"This main artery has become dangerous," said county Legis. Delia DeRiggi-Whitton (D-Glen Cove). "The county attorney should have hashed out something conclusive with the administration when he first raised the issue."
Meanwhile, John Quirk, a 45-year-old bicyclist and jogger from Oyster Bay, has started a website -- westshoreroadbikepath.com -- to try to gain support for having a bike lane added to the project to make the road safer. A bike path had been included in an earlier plan.
"We have one opportunity to do this so they should do it right," Quirk said.
County public works spokesman Mike Martino said "a bike path would require the acquisition of land; however, bicycles are currently able to safely use the roadway shoulders."