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Officials: Some Fire Island homes to be bought out

The breach on Fire Island caused by superstorm

The breach on Fire Island caused by superstorm Sandy is seen looking north. (March 9, 2013) Credit: Doug Kuntz

About 30 oceanfront homes on Fire Island will probably be purchased and demolished in a federally funded program aimed at better protecting the coast of Long Island from ferocious storms, a U.S. Army Corps official said Saturday.

Seven to 10 additional homes on the barrier island probably can be moved back on their existing lots to make way for new dunes, said Joseph Vietri, the Army Corps' North Atlantic region planning and policy chief.

"In the worst-case scenario, we're looking at some 30 homes," he said, addressing the Fire Island Association's annual meeting in Ocean Beach.

"It's pretty much the first row, on the ocean front," he noted afterward.

Some residents expect most of the buyouts to occur in the hard-hit communities of Davis Park and Ocean Bay Park, but the Army Corps has not released any specifics.

Vietri said homeowners will probably learn if their properties are targeted in the next month, "because we're starting a dialogue."

Some of Fire Island's 4,100 homes are standing in the way of new protective dunes that will replace those that superstorm Sandy destroyed in late October.

Officials said owners agreeing to buyouts would be offered their property's pre-storm value, a price most couldn't hope to achieve in the softer post-Sandy market. Also, potential buyers would face prohibitively expensive flood insurance premiums.

All of the planned buyouts are expected to be voluntary, officials said.

Long Island could get as much as $700 million to protect the 83-mile coastline from Fire Island to Montauk Point -- if state and federal officials finally agree on a flood-protection plan that has stalled for decades. Vietri said a draft plan is expected to be issued in September.

The planned buyouts should be more generous than is typical because the government wants to avoid using eminent domain to seize properties, officials said.

The buyouts will be funded by a separate $400 million program that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced early this year, using money from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Bob Spencer, who built his Davis Park home in 1957, said Saturday's meeting was troubling.

"I feel more threatened than ever," he said. "My only objective is to see there's a fair payment."

Davis Park lost a number of oceanfront homes to Sandy, and Spencer said he expects about 15 homes in the community may have to be demolished.

Replenishing sand on Fire Island, downtown Montauk, and a few other "highly critical areas" could cost about $140 million out of the planned $700 million, Vietri estimated.

To build a "tiered defense," another $60 million might be spent on salt marshes and wetlands, and "softening coastal structures that have hard bulkheads," he said. The remaining $500 million would be spent on the mainland, raising homes in the flood plain, protecting critical infrastructure and elevating roads.

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