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Asharoken trustees select beach restoration plan; hearings to be held before final decision

Asharoken Village Trustee Melvin Ettinger, center, speaks during

Asharoken Village Trustee Melvin Ettinger, center, speaks during a village board meeting on Tuesday, July 7, 2015. Credit: David L. Pokress

Asharoken trustees on Tuesday unanimously selected their preferred plan for putting sand on the village beaches -- should they ultimately decide to accept millions in federal dollars with the condition that residents provide public access to private beaches.

The vote came as a petition circulated opposing public access on the Long Island Sound side of the isthmus that makes up the North Shore village. Organizers said they have more than 100 signatures so far.

The petition states: "We the Long Island Sound side property owners of Asharoken NY WILL NOT sign an easement that allows public access to our private beach property or for five six foot wide access paths every half mile over the project area. We respectfully request you create a plan that shares the burden equally among ALL the beneficiaries of the project."

The selection does not commit the village to the project and changes can still be made, officials said. The trustee vote allows the Army Corps of Engineers to move forward developing a final proposal.

"We're not for it, we're not against it," trustee Mel Ettinger said after the meeting. "We have a fiduciary responsibility to go through this process [and] listen to the residents."

The village would pay 10.5 percent of the estimated $30 million cost, Ettinger said.

Before trustees vote on the final plan, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation and the Corps will present it to residents and take questions from the public. Trustees will then hold a public hearing, which they said will help form their final decision. No presentation or hearing date has been set.

"The village board is not going to make any decisions until that public meeting is had, and every resident is heard," Mayor Greg Letica said.

Village officials voted for a plan to put 600,000 cubic yards of sand on the beach. It was the only plan that didn't include use of a seawall or groins -- structures intended to reinforce the beach against erosion.

Federal and state law requires public access anywhere public money is used. Many Asharoken residents said allowing the public onto their deeded beachfronts would drive down property values.

They would still have to pay taxes on the land after it became public and be legally liable for injuries on their property resulting from potential increased foot traffic.

Others insist the project is necessary to protect the narrow village, its houses and main road before the next major storm.

If the village goes through with a final plan, officials would need easements from each of the 247 property owners on the Long Island Sound side of Asharoken Avenue, or pursue eminent domain if they refuse.

Officials said the project won't happen without public support and that they would not move forward unless a majority of people sign easements.

"If the large majority, or the majority, don't want to go forward, we will honor that," Ettinger said Wednesday.

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