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Feds plan to shelve Asharoken beach restoration

Private beaches along Asharoken Avenue in the Village

Private beaches along Asharoken Avenue in the Village of Asharoken on July 6, 2015. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has told the village that any shoreline restoration would require public access and extra parking. Photo Credit: Steve Pfost

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said it is shelving plans to bring before Congress a multimillion-dollar proposal to restore Asharoken’s shoreline, unless the village agrees to the agency’s conditions.

The Army Corps denied Asharoken’s request to extend an early December deadline for the village to provide a letter of support for the project, officials with the state Department of Environmental Conservation said Wednesday.

But the more than $20 million project could be resurrected if local support comes through next month, Army Corps officials said.

Asharoken, which has 650 residents and a budget of just over $2 million, had sought the extension so village trustees could gauge public support before deciding whether to give the agency the commitment it demands.

If the project goes forward, Asharoken’s share of constructing it would be $2.3 million to $2.5 million — not including mandatory maintenance costs over the next 50 years.

Corps officials said they will complete the project’s feasibility study — a mandatory prerequisite to the project that would determine its final cost and scope — by the end of this month.

But agency officials said, due to the village’s lack of support, the Army Corps won’t finish many of the final steps of the study, including submitting it to Congress for authorization to build.

“If the village decides to pursue this project . . . in the future then we could revisit the study and explore alternatives for moving forward,” Army Corps officials said in an email to Newsday.

That support seemed unlikely Tuesday night at the village’s packed monthly trustees meeting, which was marked by scattered groans, applause and outbursts from frustrated residents.

Many made emotional appeals for the board to kill the project long marked by controversy over a federal requirement that would force property owners on the Long Island Sound side of the village to allow public access on their private beaches.

“When will the village open their eyes to the fact that this project as proposed is doomed?” resident Keith Macartney said.

But the dune restoration also is a public safety issue, since the North Shore village sits on a long, narrow landmass that is vulnerable in major storms. Its main road — Asharoken Avenue — is the sole land evacuation route for many residents and about 1,400 people living in Eatons Neck, part of Huntington Town.

“I call on the village board to approve the . . . project,” resident Philip Quarles said, as the crowd booed. “Protection of human life trumps, in my opinion, the property rights of the beach owners.”

Mayor Greg Letica said at the meeting that the board would survey residents and hold a public hearing next month that will inform the board’s final decision on whether to support the project.

Some residents complained that the mayor and trustees haven’t taken a public position on the project.

“You have to have an opinion on this: Do you personally want this to happen in your village?” resident Steve Mirabile asked Letica, noting that the mayor had said in September that the project was all but dead.

Mirabile then pointed at each board member, asking them, in turn, “Do you? Do you? Do you? Do you?”

“We want to know what you want,” he continued, as the crowd applauded and cheered. “We want to survey you. Because we already know what we want. . . . Respectfully, I don’t believe any of you.”

Letica replied that he wants what residents want.

Trustee Ian Jablonski said the Army Corps’ requirement for easements from property owners was enough to guarantee the project wouldn’t happen.

“I don’t know why anybody is still worried about this,” Jablonski said. “This has been dead for years.”

Responses to the resident survey are due back to the village by Dec. 19 and results will be made public three days later.

Asharoken also will hold a public hearing on the issue at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 4 at the National Grid power plant in Northport.

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