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How the storm beat the Asharoken wall

Waves crash over collapsed seawall in Asharoken. (March

Waves crash over collapsed seawall in Asharoken. (March 15, 2010) Credit: Photo by James Carbone

The Asharoken sea wall damaged by last weekend's nor'easter was a temporary barrier designed to withstand less powerful storms, and a long-term fix has been delayed by a disagreement between the state and federal governments.

About 700 Asharoken and Eatons Neck families were cut off from the rest of Long Island because their two-lane access road was protected by a 15-year-old shore-protection project, which consists of boulders on the beach backed by a sheet-metal bulkhead, rocks and a concrete wall.

That project was designed by the Army Corps of Engineers to withstand a storm of the severity expected once every 22 years. While the corps is still assessing just how bad last weekend's storm was, Thomas Pfeifer, a senior planner with the agency, said it clearly was stronger than one that could be expected every 22 years.

The $1-million wall was designed to be an interim repair of damage to Asharoken Avenue in the devastating December 1992 nor'easter. Asharoken Mayor Patricia Irving, impatient for repairs to the breach as well as a permanent fix, calls it "a Band-Aid." And beach erosion has since limited its effectiveness, officials agree.

"The original project was built as an interim project, knowing that perhaps someday, a larger project would supersede or supplement it," Pfeifer said.

In addition, the wall had not been repaired after a November nor'easter.

Steve Couch, the corps' chief coastal planner in New York, said the corps was ready to announce its recommendations for the wall's repair last Monday before the weekend storm changed everything.

The long-term plan is to stabilize the entire 2.8-mile Asharoken beach by adding sand - possibly 500,000 cubic yards - to buffer the existing wall or a replacement.

But that fix, under study for nine years, has been delayed by about a year, Couch said, because the state Department of Environmental Conservation objects to the Corps' plan to dredge needed sand from Long Island Sound.

The DEC couldn't confirm that on Friday. But a document provided by the department contends the dredging from the Sound could harm winter flounder and other marine life, and that in turn could harm threatened birds that feed on them. It suggests the sand be taken from nearby harbor dredging projects. The agencies continue to negotiate.

In the meantime, the corps has promised to have a recommendation by Friday on how to repair damage to both ends of the 932-foot sea wall. The damage on the north end is the most severe: The metal outer wall shattered, rocks scattered and the concrete wall bowed in and cracked.

Coastal experts say it will likely be repaired by pouring a new concrete wall in front of the bowed-in section, replacing the missing portion of the steel bulkhead and the rocks between the walls, and probably adding large rocks on the beach to protect the steel wall.

The sea wall was armored with boulders when it was built in 1995-96, and more boulders were added to 300 feet of it in 2006-07 after a storm damaged that section.

The corps didn't add more boulders in the area of last weekend's washover because "the wall wasn't broken there" before the storm, and doing such work would have been considered a new project, said Thomas Creamer, the New York chief of operations.

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