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Nonprofit eyes incentives for Fire Island easements

Davis Park, Fire Island is shown. A nonprofit

Davis Park, Fire Island is shown. A nonprofit group wants to offer Fire Island homeowners an incentive for granting easements needed for a federal project that aims to fortify the barrier island against destructive storms. (Aug. 5, 2013) Credit: Doug Kuntz

A nonprofit group wants to offer Fire Island homeowners an incentive for granting easements needed for a federal project that aims to fortify the barrier island against destructive storms.

The plan is to provide cooperating homeowners with income tax deductions for the property they donate to the Fire Island Conservancy, which was formed in March.

Championing the idea is a leader of the group, Babylon attorney Irving Like, who also serves as the Fire Island Association counsel. The association is a homeowners organization.

Like said he wants to help -- "in any way we can" -- a long-stalled program to safeguard the barrier island and an 83-mile stretch of Long Island's South Shore.

The Army Corps of Engineers is working with the U.S. Department of Interior and the state to secure $700 million in federal Sandy funding for the Long Island coast from Fire Island to Montauk Point.

Before that project is finalized, the Army Corps wants to tackle "emergency stabilization projects" at Fire Island and downtown Montauk, where superstorm Sandy damaged ocean beaches, officials said.

The Army Corps needs easements to replenish Fire Island's dunes because it cannot spend public money to protect private property, according to Joseph Vietri, the agency's North Atlantic Division planning and policy chief.

Coastal homeowners sometimes resist granting easements, fearing they will lose their views or be barred from building additions. Others deem the property tax reductions they would gain by shrinking their lots to be insignificant.

Homeowners must relinquish the land permanently, partly to block them from undermining the flood protection measures by building on top of them, Vietri said.

Fewer than 200 easements from Fire Island's oceanfront properties would be needed to accommodate the dune-building project, according to Vietri.

Like said a majority of property owners will probably agree to the easements if they believe the dunes will protect their property. He hopes the new incentive will persuade any holdouts.

"Historically, you've never been able to get 100 percent" of the easements sought, he acknowledged. "There are always people who are only really thinking of their individual property."

The Army Corps hopes to kick off the Fire Island project as soon as December.

Before the Fire Island Conservancy transfers any homeowner's land to the Army Corps, "we believe and will seek confirmation from professionally qualified experts that he will be entitled to take a charitable deduction," Like said.

Developer Lou Modica, who owns Captain Bill's restaurant in Bay Shore, has given the tax-exempt Fire Island Conservancy a "substantial" grant for the new venture, said Like, who was a leader in the fight to create a national park on Fire Island.

The conservancy also plans to gather technical experts to review the Army Corps' plans and get the island recognized as a World Heritage site, he said. The new group sprang from the New York Coastal Partnership that was created to protect the barrier island.

Vietri said he's encouraged by the notion of a tax deduction incentive. "It sounds innovative and it adds something that could have use well beyond Suffolk and Nassau counties," he said.

Like said he's modeling his strategy after one the Nature Conservancy used to help preserve the Pine Barrens. Landowners there received development credits for donating acreage to the conservancy that allowed them -- or developers -- to build bigger structures than would otherwise be allowed outside the protected area.

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