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Fire Island residents quiz officials over federal dune project

Marty Chinitz, of Ocean Ridge, asks a question

Marty Chinitz, of Ocean Ridge, asks a question during a Davis Park Association meeting about the Fire Island dune project at the Roman Catholic Church of the Most Precious Blood in Davis Park, Saturday, Oct. 4, 2014. Credit: Steve Pfost

Fire Island residents questioned officials Saturday about what they stand to gain or lose from a planned 19-mile, federally funded flood-protection dune.

Some of the concerns raised by more than 100 people at the Davis Park Association meeting focused on the legal forms Suffolk says it needs for easements and to appraise the 41 homes that stand in the way of the $207 million dune.

Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) told the crowd gathered at Church of the Most Precious Blood that it's vital that the federal superstorm Sandy aid available for the project be put to use.

"I think this is a chance to get something that lots of people have been telling me for 12 years that we need," he said.

Some of the hundreds of easements that the project builder, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, requires are perpetual, the residents were told.

Gilbert Anderson, Suffolk public works commissioner, said the permanency locks in the placement of the 15-foot-high dune line.

"I don't understand how you can possibly say that something won't change over time," said resident Kevin Loiacono, 50, who supports the dune project in general but is concerned about losing property rights. "To now say we can defend this dune line ad infinitum -- it just doesn't make sense."

Suzy Goldhirsch, president of the Fire Island Association property owners' group, urged homeowners to sign the legal documents to move the project forward.

"It represents a guarantee that at least for now the line is not moving farther north," impacting even more homes, she said. "With these easements and this project, we have a better leg to stand on."

Pamela Raymond of Sayville, who owns six Fire Island rental homes with nine siblings -- said residents who truly know the island should participate in the dune planning.

"They should be listening to us . . . We understand storms," she said.

Ocean Bay Park resident Charles Molesphini said he's raised his 81-year-old beach house so high he could cancel his flood insurance, yet he now faces a federal buyout.

"I just don't see the requirement for taking houses," he said. "To be constantly encroaching on people's property just makes no sense."

Goldhirsch said the Army Corps rejected proposals to move the line closer to the ocean, sparing more homes, because the dunes would wash away too quickly. Homes targeted for buyouts are mainly in Davis Park and Ocean Bay Park.

The earliest the communities' dune project could start is October 2015, officials said.

Work on the first three miles of dunes in parklands was temporarily halted last month by a federal judge after Audubon New York sued, saying nesting grounds for endangered piping plovers would be lost.

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