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Fire Island officials ask residents to remove own Sandy debris

Debris from damage caused by superstorm Sandy is

Debris from damage caused by superstorm Sandy is piled high near the dock at Davis Park on Fire Island. (March 5, 2013) Photo Credit: Newsdsay / John Paraskevas

Fire Island village officials say they're fed up with a post-superstorm Sandy debris removal project, and are suggesting residents pay local carters to remove storm waste from their yards instead of waiting for a federal contractor to do it.

"Contact your carters and tell them to take your debris," Ocean Beach Mayor James Mallott told residents at an Ocean Beach Association meeting in Manhattan on Thursday night. "I don't have any faith in what's going on out there anymore."

Mallott called the mounds of debris a growing public health risk. Residents across the barrier island piled up storm waste in January in anticipation of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' Fire Island debris removal project, a $10.1 million job awarded to Environmental Chemical Corp. of California on Feb. 27.

The project got under way Monday after more than a month of delays due to protests on previously awarded contracts. But debris has yet to be removed from the island, and work has slowed due to flooding from this week's nor'easter, officials said Friday.

In an emailed statement, Lt. Col. John Knight, commander of the Corps' New York Recovery Field Office, said it is working with the contractor, Suffolk County, the state and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is funding the project, to "aggressively accelerate" the cleanup.

"We continue to make progress chipping vegetative debris and consolidating debris at our temporary sites as we prepare to begin moving debris off the island next week," he said.

But with a deadline to remove roughly 9,000 tons from the island by March 31, Mallott said he's concerned there could be more protests, which might create further delays. He said if the project falls through or isn't completed on time, residents will have 60 days to remove their own debris or be fined.

Saltaire Mayor Robert Cox said Fire Island communities still haven't been presented with a plan for how debris will removed, and doesn't think it can be done by the end of March.

He, too, is suggesting residents contact private carters next week if the pace of the cleanup doesn't pick up. "I think that this process is about as badly screwed up as it could possibly be," Cox said. "It's a case of someone from outside the area not really understanding what's going on and not talking to the local people early enough."