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Opponents make final plea against Asharoken dune restoration

Asharoken resident Steven Mirabile speaks about the $20

Asharoken resident Steven Mirabile speaks about the $20 million federal dune restoration project at the final public hearing on the proposal on Wednesday night, Jan. 4, 2017. Village trustees are scheduled to vote Tuesday on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' proposal, which is designed to shore up the village's narrow landmass from major storms. Credit: Johnny Milano

Asharoken residents who oppose a $20 million federal dune restoration project over its numerous requirements, including opening many private beaches to the public, spoke out late Wednesday night at a final public hearing. Village trustees are expected to vote on the plan next week.

Mayor Greg Letica and other trustees declined to comment or provide specifics on the resolution they will consider at Tuesday’s monthly village meeting.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which was to oversee the effort to shore up the village’s narrow landmass from major storms, shelved the project in December, citing a lack of community commitment for public beach access and other requirements.

Corps officials said they would resurrect the restoration plan if state and village officials submitted a letter agreeing to the federal agency’s conditions.

Wednesday night’s hearing, held at the Northport Power Plant, lasted less than 30 minutes and was dominated by project opponents.

Village resident Rob Holmes told trustees that many in the community have felt left out by the Army Corps as planning for the project moved forward.

“The Corps ignored our comments and questions during the public review,” Holmes said. “It states that human lives are not part of the cost-benefit analysis. In my opinion, it has breached the original study agreement.”

The dune restoration project was designed to protect the tiny village — sitting atop a strip of land sandwiched between the Long Island Sound and Northport Bay — from major storms and flooding.

Asharoken Avenue, the village’s main road, is the sole land evacuation route for many village residents and about 1,400 people living just to the north in Eatons Neck, part of Huntington.

“During a storm, the roads may be impassible,” said Stephanie Quarles, the lone resident to speak in favor of the project at Wednesday’s hearing. “People may not have access to medical, fire and rescue [services]. They may be isolated for a long time.”

Holmes and other residents argued that the village should not vote on the project at all, and let blame for the project’s anticipated death fall on the Army Corps.

“The Corps has unilaterally killed this project,” Holmes said. “We should remain silent and offer no formal statement.”

A village poll conducted last month found 85 percent of respondents oppose the project. Officials said 61 percent, or 259, of the 427 mailed surveys were returned by the Dec. 19 deadline.

The overwhelming negative public sentiment left many residents at the hearing feeling confident that the trustees would kill the project Tuesday.

But rejecting the project also would raise a new question: What happens next?

“We have to look to the future,” resident Marty Cohen said after the meeting. “There are issues, and to think that they’re all just going to go away just because we tell the Army Corps to go away — that’s not the case.”

Cost also has been a concern among many residents. The village has an annual budget of just over $2 million, and its roughly 650 taxpayers would bear the $2.3 million local share of the cost of initial construction without financial support from the Town of Huntington or Suffolk County.

Cohen said the next move “must be done in conjunction with the people of Eatons Neck and the Town of Huntington. It’s not all on us anymore, just the village. We can now go to all these other people and say, ‘Look, if you want to protect these residents, let’s get together and have a Plan B.’ ”

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