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LI Sound dredging plan to fix beach draws fishermen’s ire

A federal proposal to remove several hundred thousand cubic yards of sand from Long Island Sound to rebuild Asharoken Beach has met more resistance, this time from fishermen who said dredging will kill marine life and drive away the fish.

Two areas — off the eastern shore of Eatons Neck and off Crab Meadow Beach — that the Army Corps of Engineers has pinpointed as potential sites to mine for sand are prime fishing grounds that support large populations of fluke, sea bass, blackfish and other species, said Stuart Paterson, 51, skipper of a charter fishing boat named Northport Charters.

“It’s an incredibly fragile ecosystem that has rebounded in the last 50 years. I am seeing species of fish I haven’t seen in 40 years,” said Paterson, a third-generation fisherman. “This would be such a poor choice of location.”

Paterson, members of the Huntington Anglers Club, environmentalists and residents have launched a petition drive to persuade officials from the corps and New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to look elsewhere for the 600,000 cubic yards of sand needed to shore up the 2.4 miles of beach and slow the pace of erosion.

About 300 signatures were submitted last month to Assemb. Andrew Raia (R-East Northport), whose district includes Asharoken Village and Eatons Neck. An additional 575 people who oppose dredging in the Sound have signed the petition, but Paterson said those signatures have not yet been submitted. He plans to hand all 875 signatures to DEC officials Tuesday.

The Village of Asharoken, with a population of about 650 residents, is a narrow isthmus connecting the Village of Northport on the mainland to the hamlet of Eatons Neck.

Asharoken Avenue — which provides the only land access to Eatons Neck and the western parts of the Village of Asharoken — is prone to flooding. When that happens, more than 2,000 residents living in Eatons Neck are cut off from emergency services, including police and ambulance, Raia said.

In its feasibility study issued in November, the Army Corps evaluated five options and recommended one that calls for pumping sand and constructing groins, which are structures built out from a shore to protect it from erosion. The corps suggested mining the 55-acre area off Eatons Neck, referred to as Borrow Area A, which is north of Asharoken and about a half-mile from shore, for the initial 600,000 cubic yards of sand. An additional 80,000 cubic yards of sand would be needed every five years to replenish the beach, and the corps said the sand would be brought in by trucks.

The second site — off Crab Meadow Beach, referred to as Borrow Area B, is northeast of Asharoken and about 5 miles from the beach — was identified as an alternate location.

The corps acknowledged that its proposal would bury some organisms, chase away certain species of fish, such as the winter flounder, and bring about changes to areas where dredging is proposed, but said the effects would be temporary — about one to two years.

Those findings are not reassuring to charter boat captains such as Paterson whose livelihoods depend on the availability of fish in the Sound, or to recreational fishermen like Michael Piscitelli, 50, of Northport.

An avid sport fisherman, Piscitelli said the Sound is one of the last “good” fishing spots close to shore left in the country. “They can truck in the sand. They don’t have to pull it from the Sound.”

The corps did consider trucking in sand for the initial shoring-up work, but ruled it out because officials deemed that option too costly.

Among those who signed the petition but who aren’t fishermen is Krista Mellinger-DeRoma, 49, a landscape architect who grew up in Eatons Neck and now lives in Huntington Bay. While she understands the need to protect Asharoken Avenue from floods, Mellinger-DeRoma said it’s foolish to think that pouring sand on the beach would solve the erosion problem.

She suggested building a causeway.

Asharoken Village officials didn’t like the corps’ tentative plan and said they preferred the one that requires only beach replenishment. Village residents, however, have said they would not support the project if it requires them to give the public access to their private beach, which the federal government said is necessary if taxpayer money were to be used to fund the estimated $57.8 million project.

The Army Corps is expected to issue its final report later this year.

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