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Talks held over piping plover lawsuit challenging Fire Island dunes

Mastic Beach residents and local officials protest outside

Mastic Beach residents and local officials protest outside of Federal Court in Central Islip on Oct. 8, 2014. Photo Credit: Ed Betz

Audubon New York is seeking a compromise with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that will protect endangered piping plovers and allow a Fire Island dune-construction plan to move forward, the nonprofit group said.

"We have a motion seeking the preliminary injunction of the project until we have a remedy for the imperfections," Erin Crotty, executive director of Audubon New York, said Wednesday.

Crotty spoke after a federal judge in Central Islip held a closed-door conference with attorneys.

U.S. District Judge Sandra Feuerstein on Monday rejected a request to lift a temporary restraining order that has suspended the Army Corps' $207 million, 19-mile dune project. The next conference is set for Dec. 16.

Audubon New York sued last month, claiming a 3-mile stretch of the planned dune on Fire Island parklands would harm plover nesting grounds.

"All discussions between U.S. Army Corps of Engineers/U.S. Fish & Wildlife and Audubon are now occurring through the U.S. Attorney and the Audubon attorneys," Army Corps spokesman Ken Wells said in an email. Fish & Wildlife is charged with safeguarding the plovers.

Wells cautioned that halting work in the parklands until December could cause a delay until October 2015, because no work can be done while the birds nest from April to September.

Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) called the lawsuit "a senseless challenge" filed "without regard for the safety of the residents of the south shore of Long Island."

"The sooner the litigation is resolved, the quicker the protective measures of the project can be implemented, and that benefits all county residents," said Vanessa Baird-Streeter, spokeswoman for Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone.

Some of the Fire Islanders being asked for easements or whose homes are targeted for buyouts to clear a path for the dunes say they prefer an earlier flood-control plan drafted by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

"If the Corps plan goes away, the FEMA plan has to come back -- with no loss of homes and no harm to birds," said Charles Molesphini, 68, whose Ocean Bay Park home is targeted for a buyout.

Suzy Goldhirsch, president of the Fire Island Association community group, said the likelihood of the FEMA plan being revived is "very remote."

"There was no approved, funded, or permitted FEMA plan for dune re-nourishment in place that could now be'reactivated' if the Corps plan does not move forward," she said.

A FEMA spokesman said the agency is precluded from funding its plan because the Army Corps is leading Fire Island coastal restoration efforts.

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