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Asharoken trustees vote to terminate dune restoration project

Asharoken Village trustees voted 4-0 on Tuesday,

Asharoken Village trustees voted 4-0 on Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2017, to take no further action on a controversial federal dune restoration project. Mayor Greg Letica, second from left, is pictured with the three other trustees. Trustee Laura Burke was absent. Photo Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

Asharoken trustees late Tuesday night cited the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ demands in passing a resolution effectively killing a federal dune restoration project that would have forced many property owners to open private beaches to the public.

“Tonight is the final chapter in this long and often contentious saga,” Mayor Greg Letica said before the vote. “The resolution that is on the agenda this evening will provide closure.”

The 4-0 vote — Trustee Laura Burke was absent — put an end to a yearslong debate over a $23 million proposal from the Army Corps that would have required some property owners with private Asharoken beaches to allow public access as a condition of federal funding.

“No further action will be taken by the Village of Asharoken,” according to language in the resolution.

Dune restoration is a public safety issue; the tiny village sits on a long narrow landmass surrounded by water on three sides. The village and its many pricey beachfront homes would be vulnerable to flooding and washout in major storms. Asharoken Avenue — the village’s main road — is the sole land evacuation route for many residents and about 1,400 people living in Eatons Neck, part of Huntington Town.

The resolution approved Tuesday night cited the original 2001 agreement with state and federal officials to begin exploring the dune restoration, noting that it did not obligate the village to commit to the project until the completion of the project’s feasibility study.

A more recent Army Corps announcement required the village to commit to the project before the study was finished.

Community opposition to the restoration effort in the village of 650 residents centered on the public access requirement, cost concerns, and other Army Corps mandates added since August.

The new mandates would have required Asharoken to agree to the condemnation of unidentified properties for public parking, and pathways at five half-mile intervals along the project’s 2.4-mile stretch.

With an annual budget of just over $2 million, many argued that the village’s initial estimated cost-share of $2.3 million would have been difficult for its small tax base to take on. Huntington Supervisor Frank Petrone has repeatedly said the town would not share in that cost, despite the interest of its residents in Eatons Neck.

Opposition from Asharoken residents and officials led Army Corps officials to seek a written letter of support stating the village’s willingness to go through with the project before the study was complete, among other requirements. Army Corps officials had left open the possibility that the project could be resurrected if state and village officials abided by all requirements.

Army Corps officials in December terminated the project’s mandatory feasibility study based on a lack of commitment from the village.

The study, roughly a decade in the making and six months from completion, would have provided village officials with a final determination of the project’s cost, scope and community consequences.

Ultimately, village trustees determined — after seeking extensive resident feedback — that Asharoken would not submit to the Army Corps those conditions.

A property owner poll found that 85 percent of respondents were against the project, and opponents dominated a Thursday public hearing.

“Responding property owners sent a comprehensive, resounding, unambiguous and nearly unanimous message: We do not want” the beach restoration project, Letica said at Tuesday night’s meeting.

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