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Another year’s delay to build Fire Island dunes, officials say

Dunes in Davis Park on Fire Island are

Dunes in Davis Park on Fire Island are shown Saturday, Oct. 4, 2014. Credit: Steve Pfost

The complicated process of acquiring the land to build dunes in front of six Fire Island communities is adding an extra year to the already much-delayed, federally funded plan, officials said.

The dredging contract for the easternmost communities, from Ocean Bay Park to Davis Park, should be awarded this autumn, said Chris Soller, superintendent, Fire Island National Seashore.

Suffolk County, on its website in December 2015, had predicted dune-building in that area would begin by the late autumn or winter of 2016.

The stretch of dunes to the west, from Kismet to Seaview, already has been completed, Soller said, adding that the new dunes withstood this week’s nor’easter, though some sand was lost from the re-nourished beach.

The storm also gobbled up some snow fencing and walkways over the dunes, he added.

Because the Fire Island National Seashore encompasses the island, both the National Park Service and the Army Corps of Engineers had to approve the $207 million dune-building project.

The Army Corps, which hires the dredgers, did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

The federal agency, which first proposed the plan in 2013, expected to finish defending about one-third of the barrier island from storms with dunes as high as 15 feet by 2016.

But in addition to the tricky process of persuading homeowners to grant the more than 400 easements needed, the dunes were delayed by severe winter weather and problems scheduling the dredger.

Suffolk County, which must acquire all of the land needed to build and maintain the dunes, still must obtain about 225 easements from homeowners who live in the eastern communities, from Point O’ Woods to Davis Park, said Vanessa Baird-Streeter, a spokeswoman for County Executive Steve Bellone.

In addition to those two communities, dunes are planned for Ocean Bay Park, Cherry Grove, Fire Island Pines, and Water Island, according to Suffolk’s website.

The process is particularly complicated in Davis Park, where some homes are being relocated, and in the Fire Island Pines, where decks and pools must be moved.

And in Ocean Bay Park, which lies just west of Point O’ Woods, 19 homeowners were told they must accept buyouts so their homes could be demolished to make way for the new dunes, Baird-Streeter said.

So far, only five of these oceanfront homeowners have received checks, Baird-Streeter said.

“A majority of them have not cleared their title issues,” she said.

Suffolk says it still hopes to begin “disassembling” the Ocean Bay Park homes in February.

Some of the Ocean Bay Park homeowners faced with accepting buyouts or losing their homes through eminent domain have criticized the Army Corps’ plan, saying it will only increase the height of the current dune by a couple of feet, urging that the dune instead be built in front of their homes.

The Army Corps has said the dune would erode too quickly if built closer to the ocean; the dunes’ height, the Army Corps says, was chosen based on its computerized flood projections.

The holdups have prompted other complaints from some of the homeowners, including Chris Gurl, of Ocean Bay Park.

“I find it hard to believe they are taking people’s homes and are making it difficult for us at every turn,” he said.

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