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State OKs $30M for Fire Island debris removal

An aerial view of debris from destroyed homes

An aerial view of debris from destroyed homes on Fire Island. (Oct. 31, 2012) Credit: John Roca

With the goal of having Fire Island tourist-ready by summer, the state has approved $30 million for post-Sandy debris cleanup and disposal on the barrier island, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced Thursday.

The Army Corps of Engineers, with help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and local municipalities, will oversee the project, which is expected to start in late January and will include the demolition of homes destroyed by the storm.

Before work can begin, at least 75 percent of Fire Island homeowners must sign, notarize and return right-of-entry forms to allow cleanup on their properties. An Islip spokeswoman said the town has mailed out about 1,200 forms to its homeowners with a return deadline of Jan. 14. Brookhaven mailed out about 2,200 forms with the same return deadline, Town Supervisor Edward Romaine said.

"We did our debris removal on the mainland," Islip Supervisor Tom Croci said. "The challenge was the debris removal on the barrier island -- not only the amount of debris, but the sensitivity of the ecosystem and the unique nature of the roads and thruways on Fire Island."

Ocean Beach Mayor James Mallott said the village has been carting away its debris one truckload at a time across the Robert Moses Bridge, and is in the process of mailing out right-of-entry forms to owners of the village's 600 properties.

Saltaire Mayor Robert Cox said Sandy's impact was less severe there. Almost two months after the storm, he said most people have dealt with the damage to their homes, but some have expressed interest in participating in the state's cleanup plan.

"Most of the residents have taken care of the debris removal because this thing has been a long time coming and they wanted to get the moldy stuff out of their houses," Cox said. "It's really only available for people who are in a difficult situation where the house was destroyed or they can afford to wait."

The Army Corps hasn't announced its plan for debris disposal, but has said it wants to hire local contractors familiar with Fire Island.

The municipalities will be expected to pick up part of the tab, Croci said, but he's hoping for a 90/10 FEMA/local split instead of the traditional 75/25.

Cuomo noted the importance of Fire Island's reputation as a summer hangout in a news release, and Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone called the island "essential" to the county's economy.

With Deon J. Hampton

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