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Asharoken to survey residents on public access to private beaches

Private beaches along Asharoken Avenue in the Village

Private beaches along Asharoken Avenue in the Village of Asharoken are shown on Monday, July 6, 2015. Photo Credit: Steve Pfost

Asharoken officials will survey residents before deciding whether to move forward on a multimillion-dollar federal proposal which would restore the village’s depleted dunes while requiring many property owners to allow public access on their private beaches.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has proposed a $23.7 million restoration of the North Shore village’s eroded beaches, but federal law requires public access wherever the Corps puts down sand. Many residents and beach-lot owners object to allowing the public onto their properties.

Anger was evident late Tuesday, as about 70 people packed Village Hall’s meeting room and overflowed into the building’s entryway.

“There is no compromise here,” resident Steve Mirabile said during public comments. “We have no intention of allowing public access to our beaches.”

Mayor Greg Letica said the public access requirement was “ludicrous” and told residents they will be asked to respond to a survey and to participate in a public hearing. Their feedback will help village trustees eventually decide whether to move forward.

“A beach replenishment project is what Asharoken needs, but the price of giving up our private beaches is not acceptable,” Letica told residents at the meeting.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation told village officials that the Corps “was not going to back down” on public access.

If the DEC is right, Letica said the only course of action is to have the federal agency complete a long-awaited feasibility study for the project — even if the village doesn’t intend to go through with the dune restoration.

The Corps won’t complete the $300,000 study until Asharoken submits a public access plan that meets agency requirements.

While a prerequisite to restoration, the study would not commit the village to the project or public access. At the very least, Letica said it would be a starting point for future projects.

Asharoken and Huntington Town officials will speak with Corps officials Tuesday about public access and the next steps.

Letica said protecting Asharoken Avenue — the village’s primary road — would yield a sufficient public benefit to merit federal funding. Asharoken Avenue is the only land evacuation route for the roughly 1,400 residents of Eatons Neck, a section of Huntington that sits at the end of the road.

Corps officials have repeatedly rejected that argument during project negotiations.

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