Asharoken beach pitch divides community

Asharoken beach pitch divides community

Asharoken Village beach. File photo by Victoria Espinoza

Asharoken Village residents will soon have to decide if they want support a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-backed proposal to replenish the community’s eroding beaches.

The $30 million idea involves building the beach back up with more sand to fight erosion. The issue concerning many residents is that in order for the plan to go into effect, public access must be granted to private properties that have new sand put down on their beaches.

Currently, the public is only afforded access of a private beach property below the water line. However, if the village board approves this proposal, the public would have access above the mean high water line to certain private properties.

Some trustees on the village board have said they will not approve a plan that residents don’t agree with.
According to Village Trustee Mel Ettinger, five public access points need to be established for this pitch to go through. He said currently the public can access private beaches from two different areas, and are not trespassing as long as they are below the mean high water line.

Since the Army Corps of Engineers is largely funding the project, public access is a must in order for the proposal to go through. The Army Corps would pay for 89.5 percent of the $30 million costs to help fight beach erosion, and the village would have to pay 10.5 percent, or about $3 million dollars.

“The board of trustees and the mayor are doing our due diligence in exploring the issues associated with putting sand on the beaches and making sure residents are being heard,” Ettinger said in a recent phone interview.

At the end of June, the Army Corps presented the board with five different versions of the proposal, all varying in costs and methods.

On June 30, the Army Corps met with the village board and recommended a plan that consists of a berm and a dune system with groins on the northwestern end of the project area. This area includes the properties on the side of Asharoken Avenue that touches the Long Island Sound.

Berms are wedges of sand that face the sea. They are composed of sand from offshore, and help indicate that the beach has been gaining sand in recent weeks or months. Dunes are hills of sand that have either accumulated over time or have been bulldozed in. Artificial dunes help to hold an eroding shoreline in place.

“Groins in combination with new sand would reduce the erosional effect of existing groins and reduce the frequency of re-nourishments needed,” James D’Ambrosio, public affairs spokesperson for the Army Corps of Engineers said.

According to D’Ambrosio, if the residents of Asharoken do not approve this idea, then the Hurricane Sandy funds that were allocated this project would be used elsewhere.

Ettinger said once the board decides on a plan, it is required to write a letter to the Army Corps requesting which plan they want to go ahead with. Then, assuming the Army Corps approves the decision, the board will prepare a presentation to the village residents that explain all aspects of what it would mean to move forward with the plan.

“The best decision is to come up with a plan that the residents are in agreement with,” Mayor Greg Letica said in a recent phone interview.

Letica also mentioned that there are other options to ensure the safety and longevity of the beaches in Asharoken while still maintaining private access. If residents themselves entirely footed the bill, then there would be no need for the Army Corps financial assistance, and thus no obligation to make private beaches public.

“We need to protect the beaches, I understand the residents that don’t want to give access to their private property, but I think this is something we need to do,” Christine Peterson, an Asharoken resident said in a recent interview. “It’s not like we’re opening up a new beach and expect many new visitors to come and use it.”

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