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Asharoken weighs compromise on allowing public beach access

Asharoken is an incorporated village on the North

Asharoken is an incorporated village on the North Shore of Western Suffolk County. Credit: Andrew Kozak

Village of Asharoken officials are drafting a plan offering two potential public-access points to local beaches in exchange for millions in federal funds for post-Sandy restoration.

Mayor Greg Letica said sharing a tentative plan with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is a necessary show of good faith to spur negotiations in the rehabilitation of the northern isthmus.

He said a plan for access points at either end of the 2.5-mile beach doesn't preclude the village from seeking a solution that would minimize or eliminate public access to the shore that is the backyard for many residents.

"It's difficult because, on the one hand you want to work with these people," Letica said at a village meeting last week when officials outlined the strategy. "On the other hand, you want to fight for your rights."

The corps requires public access to any location that uses federal money to make improvements. Officials in June estimated the Asharoken restoration project would cost between $25 million and $30 million.

Village residents and officials have resisted public access to the beach, hampering reaching an agreement with the corps.

"You can't just have a couple of points at the ends where people will have to walk a great distance to get to the middle of the beach," said Ronald Pinzon, the corps' Asharoken project manager. "You need to have strategically placed points throughout the whole length of the project. So we're looking to identify that aspect of the plan."

Village trustees want to see what specific plans the corps has for rebuilding the dunes and providing public access. Letica said they have not received answers to many questions. "We're getting no feedback of any kind from these people on anything we asked for," he said.

But James D'Ambrosio, a corps spokesman, said his team spent hours at a village meeting earlier this year answering questions.

Residents argue they shouldn't have to give up beachfront property with private access for which they continue to pay taxes.

"This is like lightning in a bottle," D'Ambrosio said. "If you don't go for it [federal funding], it may be years before you have another opportunity."

While the plan for public access points would be a major concession for Asharoken, it is far from the access suggested by the corps -- entrance points every half-mile.

Village officials argue enough benefit would come from protecting Asharoken Avenue, the only evacuation point for residents of Eatons Neck. "Our argument continues to be that we're protecting the road and that's the public benefit," Letica said at the village meeting. "It's the only argument we've got."

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