Dune Road in Westhampton had sand washed over it from...

Dune Road in Westhampton had sand washed over it from the high tide caused by Hurricane Sandy the night before. (Oct. 30, 2012) Credit: Doug Kuntz

Construction of a new Fire Island dune line -- designed to shield Suffolk County from powerful storms -- may not start until next fall, officials said Friday.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers hoped to begin dredging off the barrier island this winter, but difficulties in nailing down final details have set back the federally funded project.

Army Corps officials informed the New York Department of Environmental Conservation about the delay at a meeting Thursday in Washington, officials said.

Christopher Gardner, an Army Corps spokesman, called the Fire Island project's initial timeline "very ambitious."

"We're still working through the details; it's a lot of little things," he said of the delay.

The agency, for example, wants to minimize how many Fire Island homes -- estimated at nearly 40 -- must be demolished to make way for the new 15-foot-high dune line, Gardner said. Some homes also may be moved back on their lots.

The DEC had no comment on the delay.

A federal official who spoke on condition of anonymity put some of the blame on New York State for waiting months after Congress approved the superstorm Sandy aid bill to agree to the scope of the $700 million, 83-mile Fire Island to Montauk Point project.

Despite the hitch, two smaller FIMP projects are moving forward, Gardner said.

He said the agency has contracts in hand to restore beaches and dunes west of Shinnecock Inlet and to rebuild four miles of Westhampton dunes. Both are slated to begin this winter.

The state had expected to receive the federal contract for the entire FIMP project by the end of September.

On Oct. 24, the Army Corps informed the DEC the contract wouldn't be ready until sometime after Jan. 2, DEC Commissioner Joseph Martens noted in an Oct. 30 letter to Army Corps Col. Paul E. Owen. The state must review the agreement before it can sign off on the flood-control work.

At the Thursday meeting, the state was further advised not to expect the Fire Island dredging to begin until next fall, officials said.

"DEC and Suffolk County cannot move forward on fundamental efforts necessary to undertake the real estate transactions until the PPA [Project Partnership Agreement] is executed," Martens said in his letter.

Martens asked the Army Corps to speed the process by incorporating a memorandum spelling out land acquisitions in the partnership agreement.

New York is competing with other Sandy-wracked states for its share of the $51 billion Sandy aid package.

FIMP would spend $500 million on Long Island, raising thousands of flood-prone homes and tens of miles of roads. Another $140 million would pay for re-creating dunes and widening beaches on Fire Island, as well as Montauk, Westhampton, West Hampton Dunes, Georgica Pond in Wainscott and Tiana Beach in Hampton Bays.

Salt marshes and wetlands, which would serve as coastal sponges, and wildlife habitats would be created with the remaining $60 million.

Chris Soller, Fire Island National Seashore superintendent, said part of the Army Corps' debate revolves around how much space should separate the dunes from homes, and whether, given the delays, this program should be bundled into the entire project instead of handled on an interim basis.

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