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Asharoken storm protection project to be reviewed, officials say

Local, state and federal officials met at Asharoken

Local, state and federal officials met at Asharoken Beach to discuss protections from natural disasters on Aug. 25, 2017. Credit: Facebook / Rep. Tom Suozzi

New York State officials will ask the Army Corps of Engineers to reopen a project to protect Asharoken that was abandoned earlier this year when federal and local officials couldn’t agree on terms, Rep. Thomas Suozzi said Monday.

Federal, state and Huntington Town officials met in Asharoken Friday to evaluate the village’s aging sea wall and discuss potential solutions that would protect the thousands of people who could be stranded if it is not repaired before the next major natural disaster.

“The challenge is to figure out a short-term solution,” Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) said. “The Army Corps has ... priorities that are often very reactive to major storm events instead of proactive, and we don’t want to wait.”

The sea wall was designed to protect a portion of Asharoken Avenue — the village’s main road and sole land evacuation route for its residents and 1,400 people living in Eatons Neck.

The wall is in disrepair and has developed a shallow sinkhole.

“The weather circumstances can change very, very quickly and because of that we need to have a sense of extreme urgency to get the sinkhole fixed,” Asharoken Mayor Greg Letica said Monday.

Letica and Suozzi were joined Friday by Colonel Thomas D. Asbery, head of the New York District of the Army Corps of Engineers. Huntington Town board members Tracey Edwards and Mark Cuthbertson, as well as New York Department of Environmental Conservation officials and state Assemb. Andrew Raia (R-East Northport) also attended.

A Corps spokesman said the meeting was “strictly preliminary” and that a potential course of action would require “careful consideration.”

Town officials said they were hopeful that the sinkhole — along with grim images of Hurricane Harvey flooding in Texas — would create urgency at a federal level.

“The conditions are dire now,” Cuthbertson said. “There were holes in the steel sheeting [of the seawall]. There were very large rocks that had been moved out of place that form a part of the integrity of the whole structure.”

Edwards noted it would be more expensive to make repairs after a disaster strikes.

“We have to make sure that we are addressing things proactively,” she said. “Why wait for a disaster to happen and spend millions more dollars?”

Suozzi said officials are considering potential solutions that would have the Corps pursue a project with a significantly smaller scope than the one that failed in January. That $23 million plan would have restored sand dunes along 2.4 miles of Asharoken’s Long Island Sound beach, but also would have required some property owners with private beaches to allow public access as a condition of federal funding.

The issue became a nonstarter on both sides, with Corps officials announcing in December they were shelving the project’s preliminary study, and village officials voting in January to kill it entirely.

Officials are now hopeful that a smaller project could help protect Asharoken Avenue without forcing residents to allow public access on private property.

“My focus is getting the sinkhole fixed,” Letica said. “Then we’ll look at a more comprehensive solution.”

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