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Asharoken shore restoration requires public access to private beaches

A view of the shore at Asharoken Beach.

A view of the shore at Asharoken Beach. Credit: Steve Pfost

Repairing extensive Sandy damage in Asharoken, using federal and state relief funds as planned, means the private beaches will have to include public access.

"Wherever we put sand, the public will have access," Sue McCormick, chief of the coastal erosion management program at the state Department of Environmental Conservation, said at a meeting about the project Tuesday night.

The DEC and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are conducting a feasibility study for the long-awaited beach restoration project, which is estimated to cost between $25 million and $30 million.

"It's up to our residents whether they are willing to trade off public access for the beach restoration," Mayor Gregory Letica said.

Superstorm Sandy in October 2012 destroyed the protective dunes and flooding temporarily closed Asharoken Avenue. Smaller replacement dunes were built, but the Army Corps project would provide additional protections.

While no final decisions have been made, federal and state officials said at Tuesday's village board meeting that the current plan includes dredging a section of Long Island Sound and placing the sand on the beach.

The project also may include installing groins -- structures designed to trap sand -- and breakwaters, which they say would help keep the sand on the beach.

The project area spans about 2.4 miles on the Long Island Sound side of Asharoken Avenue.

The village has about 300 homes, many with private beaches, and no public parking.

Officials said Tuesday they hope to start the design and construction phases in December 2015.

Funding for the project came from the Sandy relief bill passed by Congress, giving the Army Corps $5 billion for post-Sandy repair and restoration work

About 50 people attended the meeting, with some saying after the presentation that they could accept the public access requirement if it means getting the work done.

"It's a no-brainer," said Alexander Janow, who owns a beach lot on Long Island Sound. "Otherwise we have no beaches and we lose our houses and roadways."

The project's cost will be shared by the Army Corps, DEC and village, with Asharoken's contribution estimated to be about 10.5 percent. All three entities will have to pay for renourishment of the beach after the project is finished. Asharoken's share of those costs would be about 15 percent.

The public access areas are required to be 6 feet wide and could be simply a sand path, officials said. Initial studies indicate five access points would be needed.

The village will draft a public access plan, including parking, this summer, officials said.

Officials have argued for years that beach and shoreline restoration is critical for the safety of Asharoken residents. Asharoken Avenue is the only access road to Eatons Neck, the neighboring hamlet. "This is a lifesaving opportunity for this village," said trustee Melvin Ettinger. "We could have sand on the beach in two years."

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