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Officials foresee fast Fire Island fix-up

Local officials meet to discuss different ways to rebuild Fire Island after superstorm Sandy. Videojournalists: Jessica Rotkiewicz and Amanda Voisard (Dec. 5, 2012)

FEMA and the Army Corps of Engineers plan to help fund and foster the removal of massive amounts of debris superstorm Sandy left on Fire Island, with the goal of getting the barrier island in shape for summer, when it becomes a tourist destination and regional economic engine.

"We'll be ready for a new season starting April," Ocean Beach Mayor James Mallott said Wednesday after local leaders met with federal officials privately in Holbrook.

Mary Parker, president of the Davis Park Association, said storm residue -- destroyed appliances, sand piled feet-high against homes and splintered wood -- is strewn across what remains of her community's protective dunes.

"Everybody is very excited the Army Corps would take on this project," Parker said. "It certainly needs to be done. . . . It's six weeks after the disaster, and we have debris that's keeping us from being able to look at the dune and decide how to re-nourish it."

Islip Town and Suffolk County officials said after the meeting that the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Army Corps will fund the project, which is expected to start in January. There is no estimated price tag, but Mallott said the federal agencies, the county, Islip, Brookhaven, the Fire Island National Seashore and the homeowner's associations, all of whom were represented, are working together on the recovery.

For the federal project to start, local contractors have to be vetted. Officials said about 75 percent of island homeowners would have to sign -- and have notarized -- right-of-entry forms so workers can remove debris from their properties. Many residents whose homes were totaled -- about 150 were deemed destroyed -- will be asked to fill out another form to allow FEMA to demolish.

Suzy Goldhirsch, president of the Fire Island Association, applauded the attention but said it could be hard to secure authorization from homeowners since so many are dispersed during the off-season.

Logistics -- such as notifying residents, completing paperwork, hiring contractors and figuring out how to get the debris off the island -- have to be worked out.

"It's a huge effort," Goldhirsch said. "If it was a smaller storm, we could do it ourselves, but this . . . rivals 1938, especially with the flood damage. It's going to be a major undertaking."

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