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Army Corps of Engineers to Asharoken: Give public beach access or lose project money

Stephen Couch, chief of the Hurricane Sandy Planning

Stephen Couch, chief of the Hurricane Sandy Planning Division for the Army Corps of Engineers, addresses the crowd during a public meeting regarding the village of Asharoken's proposed beach restoration project on Tuesday, June 30, 2015. Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

The Army Corps of Engineers delivered a clear message to Asharoken residents Tuesday night, urging them to select a beach restoration plan -- and allow public access on their private beaches for the first time -- or lose out on millions in funding.

"You don't have a whole lot of choice in this matter," Gene Brickman, deputy chief, Planning Division at U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New York District, told a packed meeting room at the National Grid Plant in Northport. "Your choice is get the project done, or don't have a project.."

The village by Aug. 5 needs to produce a letter selecting one of five beach restoration proposals, should it ultimately choose to move forward with the project. At that point, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation can get federal approval for the Corps to finish the study and move the project closer to a goal of starting work in the fall of 2017.

The village occupies a narrow isthmus, with most residents living on either side of Asharoken Avenue, with the Long Island Sound on one side and a bay on the other. Superstorm Sandy destroyed sections of beach and undermined others. The project would affect beaches along the Sound.

The issue has divided residents. Many who don't live in the highest-risk erosion zones argue the project does not justify giving up their private beaches.

Residents with property in high-risk areas, or outside of the project zone who would not have to give up private beach access, said they fear that without the restoration project, their property will be damaged in the next major storm.

"I don't accept the premise that we have to give up our property rights," resident Steve Mirabile, who attended the meeting, said Wednesday.

Larry Wurzel, who attended the meeting and has lived on the bay side of Asharoken for three years, supported the project. "There's no choice," he said Wednesday. "The board's duty is to vote to do what's best for Asharoken, not what's best for one person."

Officials have said the project includes funding for 50 years of beach renourishment. But "there's no guarantee," Sue McCormick, an engineer and chief of the Coastal Erosion Management Program for the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, said at the meeting.

Funding for continued beach preservation will depend on the state and federal government, which split the cost 50-50. It's always possible that elected officials could reappropriate funding for the continued beach nourishment, McCormick said.

"There's not a government entity that will give you 50 years guarantee on anything," said resident John Dumser. "And if you believe it, you're a fool."

The Corps' Brickman cautioned at the meeting that "the alternative is to do nothing. Your beach is going to continue to erode. The storms are going to continue to be worse."

Dumser Wednesday said those statements "have us so afraid of everything" and that residents worried about storm damage should have considered that before moving to Asharoken.

"We could all lose everything" in a major storm, he said. "This is a sandbar. We chose to live here."

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly described the decision to be made by the Aug. 5 deadline. 

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