By Janee Law
More than 160 Asharoken and Eatons Neck residents packed the Northport High School cafeteria on Dec. 9 for an update on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ plans for a major construction project to protect Asharoken Avenue from the onslaught of future storms and erosion.
The project has come under fire from some Asharoken residents who oppose a requirement to provide public access to their private beach. Under federal law, land the Corps restores or improves with taxpayer money must become public.
Of the $24 million in initial construction costs, the Army Corps would pay 65 percent, or $15.4 million, as the federal sponsor; the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation would pay 35 percent, or $8.3 million, as the state sponsor; and the Village of Asharoken would pay $2.5 million as the local sponsor.
This initial construction involves adding 600,000 cubic yards of sand to build up the beach facing the Long Island Sound and adding three groin structures at the west end of the beach, said Ronald Pinzon, project manager of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. After that, the plan calls for 80,000 cubic yards of sand to be added to the beach over the course of every five years to renourish it, for a total of 800,000 cubic yards over 50 years for a total projected cost of about $57.8 million.
At the meeting, it appeared residents of Eatons Neck were in favor of the construction, while Asharoken residents were not.
“We feel very strongly that this is a huge public benefit to protecting Asharoken Avenue because it’s the only road that serves Eatons Neck and approximately 2,000 non-Asharoken residents in the Town of Huntington who rely on that road for their safety and well-being,” said Asharoken Mayor Greg Letica.
However, he said village residents are “not particularly happy” about the requirement of public access to private property and that the village is “seeking an elimination of the requirement.”
He added, “The fact that the village should be settled with full local cost share and be required to open up its private property to public use when the project benefits the road used by thousands of non Asharoken residents daily is unfair and unreasonable. The village is willing to consider negotiating alternative suggestions to that part of the project."
Matthew Casamassima, 72, who lives on Asharoken Avenue in Asharoken, agreed that the Corps’ public requirement is unfair.
“We are more than willing to work with them and pay our fair share, but they want those 74 houses to give up their rights for public access [and] houses on Eatons Neck and the other houses in Asharoken will not bear the burden of the disparity in giving up their personal rights,” Casamassima said.
Meanwhile, Eatons Neck resident Bill Heuer fully supports any plan that ensures the safety of his family.
“I don’t think the process has adequately taken into account what happens to folks out on Eatons Neck,” said Heuer, 47, adding that his biggest concern is getting home to his kids. “My kids go to school in the morning, if that road gets shut down because of a storm, my 7-year-old kid is stuck at school and…we can’t get to her.”
The public comment period on the plan is open until Jan. 29. Residents can submit any concerns to the Army Corps by mail or email.
Pinzon said he hopes an agreement can be reached and the plan can move forward by May.