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Suffolk seeks rights to survey for Fire Island dune, meets resistance

This photo looks east from Schooner Walk along

This photo looks east from Schooner Walk along the shore in Ocean Beach Fire Island on Oct. 5, 2013. Credit: Doug Kuntz

Suffolk County has given affected Fire Island property owners until Wednesday to agree to land surveys that help clear the way for a federally funded, storm-shielding dune line.

The surveys must be done before the county can appraise 41 oceanfront homes targeted for buyouts or relocation because they stand in the path of the 15-foot-high, 19-mile dune.

Suffolk also needs the surveys to draft hundreds of needed easements -- about 300 from municipalities and 400 from homeowners -- that formalize consent for the $207 million U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project.

Without providing numbers, county officials said this week that needed documents are being signed and collected.

But some Fire Islanders are being advised by lawyers to hold off until changes are made.

Jonathan Houghton, a Manhattan eminent domain lawyer with Fire Island clients, has cautioned against signing the "right of entry" forms needed for the surveyors.

Houghton said the county could place equipment in an owner's yard -- and leave it there for up to 3 years -- the length of the agreement. He also said the forms fail to protect homeowners from liability if a surveyor is injured on their property.

Gil Anderson, Suffolk's public works commissioner, said the county is prepared to resolve those objections.

"They're concerned we're going to come with a bulldozer and leave it on their yard," he said, adding: "We're going to come out with our survey equipment and leave with our survey equipment."

Anderson said the county has the power to proceed with surveys without right of entry forms, provided it does its best to arrange appointments.

Suffolk this month began mailing out the forms. The county also launched an informational website -- suffolk -- that includes right of entry and easement forms, and waivers that free the county from paying for the easements.

Almost all of the planned buyouts are in Davis Park and Ocean Bay Park.

Robert Spencer of Manhattan, who owns a home in Davis Park, is among those who say they have too many questions about the project to sign legal documents. "That's how a lot of us feel," he said.

Dredging for the first phase of the dune was supposed to start this month. A judge issued a restraining order Sept. 12 after Audubon New York filed a lawsuit, claiming the work imperils endangered piping plovers.

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