Public Access For Safer Sands?

By Arielle Dollinger 


A project being considered in the Village of Asharoken, with its private beaches and waterfront houses just beyond Northport borderlines, would mean trading public access to its exclusive shoreline for protection from erosion.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have been in talks with Mayor Greg Letica and his board of trustees about a plan to insert structures along the village's shoreline to make sure that the beaches remain intact. On Tuesday, representatives from both agencies explained the situation to the community and addressed public concern.

With erosion on ongoing problem, the pre-Superstorm Sandy plan was to just replace the sand – 650,000 cubic yards initially, and then 125,000 cubic yards every five years, said Sue McCormick, the DEC’s chief of coastal erosion. But after Sandy and the winter storm that followed, it became clear that more sand alone would not solve the problem; the area needed protection.

“We know we could put sand out there; we also know it's washing away,” said Eugene Brickman, deputy chief of the planning division of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

At the moment, the plan is no more than a study, said Project Manager Ronald Pinzon. But according to current evaluations, the solution now involves structures called "groins" and breakwaters.

A groin, Pinzon said, is a jetty-like stone structure running perpendicular to the land and into the water, meant to hold the sand where it is. A breakwater is a stone structure installed in an effort to divert wave energy offshore.

Pinzon made clear that the study phase involves determining whether or not groins and breakwaters are the solution to the problem. The Army Corps is doing modeling, which will determine if or where groins are needed.

A cost for the project has not yet been determined, but Pinzon said an estimate for the initial construction of groins and breakwaters would be between $25 million and $30 million. There would then be a cost for re-nourishment every five years or so, for the next 50 years, he said.

The village would be responsible for 30 percent of the non-federal cost of construction. The state would be responsible for the remaining 70 percent.

More than half of the cost of initial construction would be covered federally – the split is 65 percent federal and 35 percent nonfederal – and there would be a 50/50 split of re-nourishment costs between federal and non-federal.

This, according to Corps calculations, would mean that the village would be responsible for about 10.5 percent of the total cost of initial construction and about 15 percent of re-nourishment cost. The state would lay out initial non-federal costs and the village would receive the bill later, after the project is built.

Study costs after Jan. 29, 2013, are entirely federal because of the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013. This also means an expedited construction process and access to some federal funding for construction. Prior to that date, the study cost the village about $327,500.

Many residents were concerned about the fact that approval of the plan would mean that some residents would have to sign off on the ownership change of a parcel their own land -- from private to public.

By federal and state policy, because of federal and state funding, the Army Corps of Engineers could build the stone structures only on public land and would have access to portions of Asharoken's beaches; residents living on that land would need to make two accommodations.

Those living on property home to an access point will have to allow for a 6-foot-wide passageway from street to beach and provide a space for parking. There would be five required access points and public access ways within 1/4 of a mile in each direction.

“It doesn't have to be anything elaborate, but you have to provide a way for people to get to these access points,” McCormick said.

Heather Amster, the DEC’s real property supervisor, explained why portions of the beach must become public.

“The government cannot pay to put money, to put sand, on private property... That is benefitting the few, not the all,” she said.

Both Amster and Brickman said that they do not think the public needs be concerned about droves of people coming to the beach. Brickman said that with no restroom facilities and no snack bar, it is unlikely that people will frequent Asharokens beaches.

Asharoken resident Anna Pollaci, who has been living in the area since 1999, was one of several residents who said that the meeting was informative.

“I don't think anyone knew half of what was presented tonight,” she said following the meeting. "Regardless, we need has to be done.”

The village can decide not to welcome the project, Brickman said, and the project would be taken off the books. But if it were to decide to reject the project now, he noted, the village would likely not receive the protection it needs in any of its residents' lifetimes.

“If you don't build this're accepting that you're not going to be protected,” Brickman said. “And the one thing I can tell you: If you don't do this project now, when you've got every favorable rule for Sandy, I will be long dead before you see this project [again].”

Design and construction for the project, if approved, would not start until December 2015.

“Its going to be up to our residents to decide,” Letica said.