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Suffolk speeds up Fire Island survey work to restore dunes

Fire Island had 200 homes washed away during

Fire Island had 200 homes washed away during superstorm Sandy, rising floodwaters from the Atlantic Ocean push past 15-foot dunes and a breach that has grown to more than 600 feet wide. The resort community has just 300 permanent residents, but on summer weekends, the population swells to 75,000. Credit: Doug Kuntz

Suffolk public works officials on Wednesday won a waiver to speed up the hiring of surveyors to do as much as $2.8 million in advance map work needed to acquire damaged homes and rebuild dunes across Fire Island in the aftermath of superstorm Sandy.

"We're looking to expedite the surveys so we can get to the acquisitions," said Gil Anderson, public works commissioner. Later in an interview, he said the waiver will allow the county "to have boots on the ground by the end of September," rather than early next year as originally projected, he said. He now hopes survey work can be done by year's end.

The three-member county waiver committee -- made up of executive and legislative representatives -- voted unanimously to allow public works officials to reach out directly to local surveying firms without going to a lengthy request for proposals solicitation and evaluation process.

Anderson said he will begin reaching out within two weeks and expects to use seven or eight local firms as well as some subcontractors to provide property maps for the acquisition of 41 damaged or destroyed homes and for another 421 properties for which easements are needed. The easements are needed from property owners for the $207.2 million project to rebuild dunes from Robert Moses State Park to Moriches Inlet.

While $2.8 million has been allocated for the survey work, Anderson said he hopes the expense will be lower because the county has learned it needs to prepare property maps and descriptions only for private properties. For public lands, Anderson said, the county needs only access agreements, reducing the amount of survey work required from the original estimate of 686 parcels.

Anderson said the first phase of dune work will be done on Fire Island's eastern five-mile stretch at Smith Point County Park, where the contract has already been let and work will begin by early October.

The second phase will begin in December to reconstruct the dunes and beach at Robert Moses State Park and the Fire Island Lighthouse property. An alternative in that contract would also permit dune work to be extended to Fire Island communities as far east as Lonelyville if the easements are completed and filed with the county clerk. Both phases are expected to be completed by April 1. Public works officials say the work on the third phase for all other Fire Island communities is expected to start Sept. 15, 2015.

Anderson emphasized there is no county cost involved in the project, which is 100 percent federally funded and administered by the state.He also said that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers also will have to approve the pricing of all survey contracts.

The public works commissioner said the waiver comes after several western Fire Island communities offered to move ahead with survey work on their own to speed up efforts to restore dunes. "I believe the waiver will reduce some of the anxieties certain communities have in regard to the timing of the project," Anderson said.

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