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Crews working 24/7 to haul Fire Island Sandy debris by deadline

Large piles of debris still sit on the

Large piles of debris still sit on the front lawns of some of the homes in Ocean Beach before a major FEMA/Army Corps of Engineers debris clean-up of Fire Island. (Jan. 18, 2013) Credit: Ed Betz

Crews are now working around the clock to remove roughly 62,200 cubic yards of superstorm Sandy debris from Fire Island in order to meet a March 31 deadline, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said Friday.

Removal of the debris from the barrier island to prepare for the summer tourism season was supposed to begin in late January, but the federally funded project faced delays due to protests over the bidding process.

Work to consolidate debris began March 4, days after the job was awarded to Environmental Chemical Corp. of Burlingame, Calif., for $10.1 million.

Army Corps spokesman Chris Gray-Garcia said the move to a 24-hour operation started Friday. "We're hoping that it will be not terribly disruptive for the residents," he said, adding that the 24-hour work will be done at three debris-storage sites in Atlantique, Davis Park and Point O' Woods.

"There won't be any work going on in the neighborhoods of the island [at night], and ultimately the idea is to just get this done as fast as we can," he said.

Disposal crews were already working seven days a week. So far, 600 cubic yards of construction and storm debris have been removed, Gray-Garcia said. Debris is being barged to Long Island and transported by rail to the Tunnel Hill Reclamation Landfill in Perry County, Ohio.

Twelve to 14 additional barges are expected to join the operation Saturday.

"Obviously, we're trying to cram a difficult project into about half the time we planned for," Gray-Garcia said, "so it's just a necessary part of meeting the deadline."

The March 31 deadline was set with the piping plover in mind. The federally protected bird begins breeding then along the island's beaches and dunes.

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