Brookhaven officials have formally agreed to take part in the $1.5 billion Fire Island to Montauk Point shoreline protection project, despite raising concerns about its potential impact on some homeowners.
Town officials last week signed a Project Partnership Agreement with the Army Corps of Engineers, which is planning to start construction next year. The plan, known as FIMP, includes dredging and coastal restoration projects to protect 83 miles of Long Island’s South Shore from storms and sea level rise.
The decision to sign the agreement came just days after Brookhaven Supervisor Edward P. Romaine wrote a June 11 letter to U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) raising concerns about some aspects of the plan. In the letter, Romaine said the plan had failed to cover the costs of homeowners who must find alternate housing or move their belongings while their houses were raised to protect them from floods.
Romaine also expressed concern that government grants aimed at helping homeowners might be taxable under federal guidelines.
"The amount to be spent on each home being raised was estimated to be over $200,000," Romaine wrote. "This would be a very significant tax burden on any resident."
In a statement, Schumer spokesman Angelo Roefaro said the senator "shares the Town of Brookhaven’s concerns and is pushing the Army Corps to hold community meetings, where the goals of the FIMP plan are further explained and input from the community, homeowners and town government are heard loud and clear."
Army Corps spokesman James D'Ambrosio said in a statement the agency had "limited ability to pay for temporary relocation expenses," adding that raising homes "is completely voluntary — no one is compelled to participate." He added that the corps had held public meetings when the plan was announced.
Supporters have said the plan represents the best chance to save Fire Island and the South Shore from future floods.
"It's really a major accomplishment," said Suzy Goldhirsch, president of the Fire Island Association, which represents many property owners on the barrier island. "It’s a regional response to what we’re facing, which is sea level rise and climate change."
Goldhirsch, whose family owns homes in Seaview and Point O' Woods, acknowledged participating homeowners faced some steep expenses, but she argued that those costs were less onerous than losing a house.
"There will be costs to them no matter what, in terms of flooding," she said. "But it’s an opportunity to get some people elevated and out of harm’s way."
The earliest version of FIMP was proposed in 1960, but it took 60 years before federal authorities formally authorized the project.
Babylon, East Hampton and Southampton towns and Suffolk County also have signed project partnership agreements, D'Ambrosio said.
Islip Town spokeswoman Caroline Smith said officials there expect to sign an agreement soon.