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Eatons Neck residents concerned over Asharoken road project

Eatons Neck residents John and Christine Ballow, shown

Eatons Neck residents John and Christine Ballow, shown here near the seawall at the north end of Asharoken Avenue on Friday, Oct. 28, 2016, say they are concerned about the future of a project to protect the road during storms. Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

In 2011, first responders rushed John Ballow from his Eatons Neck home to Huntington Hospital, where doctors were able to save his life after finding an aneurysm.

Now Ballow fears what could happen in the next medical emergency if Asharoken Avenue — the only land evacuation route for roughly 1,400 Eatons Neck residents — is washed out or blocked.

“I never expected to get dragged out of here in an ambulance,” Ballow said. “If there had been a storm and we couldn’t get out of here, I would have died on this side.”

Philip Whiter, chairman of the Eatons Neck Board of Fire Commissioners, said the road connecting Eatons Neck to the mainland becomes impassable at least once a year during storms — sometimes for days — isolating residents from emergency services. The fire district made 67 ambulance runs in 2015.

A proposed $23.7 million Army Corps of Engineers beach restoration that would protect the road is on the verge of falling apart over tensions between the Army Corps and Asharoken — but Eatons Neck residents, who reside within Huntington Town, have no say because the project falls entirely within the village.

While many Eatons Neck residents shared their concerns during a public comment period, Army Corps officials later told Newsday that none of the public feedback had informed, influenced or otherwise altered the agency’s proposal and position.

“Horrible,” Whiter said. “A classic case of the government not listening to the people.”

Many Asharoken property owners oppose an Army Corps requirement that would force many of them to allow public access on their private beaches in exchange for the federal funding.

In September, Army Corps officials told Asharoken and the state Department of Environmental Conservation that unless the two commit to the project and public access — before the federal agency has revealed its final scope and cost — they will terminate its feasibility study, and, by default, the project itself.

“It appears that the Army Corps of Engineers is prepared to abandon the project that is needed to protect both the coastline and the life and property of affected Town of Huntington citizens due to an interpretation of the rules,” Whiter wrote in a letter Tuesday calling for the agency to find an alternative proposal.

DEC officials also appealed to the Army Corps, asking it to complete the study without a commitment. DEC officials said they have not yet received a response.

Jim Tierney, DEC deputy commissioner for water, said the agency does not have a backup plan to protect Eatons Neck because it is focused on persuading the Army Corps to complete the study.

While Tierney said the DEC would look into alternatives if the time comes, the agency likely wouldn’t be responsible for protecting the road.

“We’re not the people who would handle highway and roadway reinforcements,” he said. “There are other agencies out there.”

Army Corps officials declined to comment.

Huntington Town Supervisor Frank P. Petrone said he is reaching out to the DEC to find alternatives for Eatons Neck should the project collapse.

“If this is going down, we’re not finished,” Petrone said. “There’s a need to do a project here, and to protect people.”

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