Asharoken Mayor Gregory Letica has announced the formation of a committee to explore options for restoring the village's beach without forcing residents to surrender private beach rights -- a requirement if they accept $30 million from the Army Corps of Engineers to put down sand along the North Shore isthmus.
"The committee is being asked to work to create a strong political coalition," Letica said at a Tuesday night meeting of village trustees.
The news came as officials with the Army Corps of Engineers said it would probably release a draft feasibility report and environmental assessment on the project for public comment this fall.
The corps has been working on the study for more than a decade. Superstorm Sandy renewed urgency for the project, but residents have resisted because federal law mandates that anywhere taxpayer money is used for such projects must be accessible to the public.
Many residents have said losing their deeded rights would lower their property values. Others have described it as a necessary sacrifice to restore the dunes and protect Asharoken Avenue -- the one outlet to the mainland for Eatons Neck.
Letica said Tuesday the group of 10 people were primarily selected from different parts of Asharoken, which stretches along Asharoken Avenue, the village's roughly 2.5-mile main road.
The committee as a whole represents the community's varied opinions, which tend to correlate with where people own property in the geographically narrow village. Eatons Neck will also be represented.
It includes homeowners with private beaches, owners of beach lots without houses, people who live on the shore side where the corps would put sand and beaches would go public, and the bay side where residents would have to help pay for improvements without receiving new sand.
Letica said the committee will work with the board of trustees and reach out to stakeholders, including the Northport Fire Department, Eatons Harbor Corp., National Guard station, PSEG Long Island, National Grid, Northport Village officials, and the Northport school district and the Suffolk County Water Authority, among others.
"We're looking to find alternative solutions and a means of protecting the road, all of which can be done without public access," Letica said.
Asharoken officials have maintained that Asharoken Avenue is of utmost importance to people beyond the village -- and that protecting it is enough of a public benefit to merit the federal funding without giving up private beach access.
"It's not the beaches, it's the road," said John Ballow, an Eatons Neck resident and member of the new committee on Thursday. "That road supports 2,000 families that live out here. We've been out here since 1985, and we've been trapped out here in a couple storms."