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Lawmakers: Rebuild Montauk, Fire Island dunes now

Davis Park, Fire Island. This photo looks east

Davis Park, Fire Island. This photo looks east along the shore. (Aug. 5, 2013) Credit: Doug Kuntz

Members of New York's congressional delegation Thursday urged the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to accelerate emergency dune-rebuilding projects for Fire Island and downtown Montauk.

Superstorm Sandy ravaged dunes and beaches that protect those areas -- and the Long Island coast.

"With hurricane season upon us, we must act now to protect Long Island's South Shore communities from another devastating storm," wrote Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) in a letter cosigned by Democratic Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand.

The emergency projects would be the first phase of a proposed $700 million plan to safeguard an 83-mile stretch of coastline from Fire Island to Montauk Point.

The Army Corps said about $500 million is earmarked for raising homes in flood-prone areas on the South Shore. Dune rebuilding would cost about $140 million, and another $60 million is slated for creating wetlands to absorb storm surges.

Though the plan was first proposed a half-century ago, squabbles between federal and state agencies have kept it on the drawing board. Sandy's destruction, however, has pushed all of the parties closer to a final agreement.

Bishop, Gillibrand and Schumer made their appeal to Assistant Secretary of the Army Jo-Ellen Darcy, whose agency must sign off on the projects, officials said.

"We write to request that your agency take immediate action to approve the emergency stabilization projects at Fire Island dunes and downtown Montauk," the letter states.

Chris Gardner, a spokesman for the Army Corps in New York, said he's "optimistic" that construction would start this winter.

The National Park Service manages the barrier island's park, which means the U.S. Department of the Interior also must approve the plan.

"I will continue to exert maximum pressure at every level until we succeed," Schumer said in a statement.

Before dredging and dune construction can start, the state and local governments must obtain permanent easements from some Fire Island residents. Roughly 40 homes in the path of the planned dune must be either moved or purchased and demolished, the Corps has said.Funding for the project would come from the $50.7 billion Sandy relief bill approved by Congress.

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