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Federal Emergency Management Agency

Construction of a retaining wall to fortify the toe of the East Beach bluff is expected to begin this year. Photo by Carolyn Sackstein

By Carolyn Sackstein

In a continuing effort to report on bluff erosion near the Port Jefferson Country Club at Harbor Hills, TBR News Media reached out to the Village of Port Jefferson to discuss the recent visit by assessors from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.  

Village administrator, Joe Palumbo, detailed FEMA’s visit to the village. He said the inspectors were assigned to assess the damage caused by Hurricane Ida last September to the recharge basins on Oakwood Road, Port Jefferson. 

“FEMA’s recent visit was to inspect and assess the damage caused by Hurricane Ida to the large and small recharge basins on Oakwood Road,” Palumbo said. “For some reason, this group of FEMA inspectors were not assigned to inspect the bluff project.” Adding that he hoped to get more clarity on FEMA’s plans, he said, “I had a call with FEMA to find out why and whether they are coming back to inspect [the bluff]. I hope to have a response to these questions on, or before, my next call with them.”

In an emailed statement, the village administrator provided additional historical context surrounding this issue. He described the difficulties of working with governmental agencies that lacked the sense of urgency necessary to secure the village’s assets in a timely manner.

“The village was unable to take action to stabilize the bluff until it received permits to do so from [the Department of Environmental Conservation] and Army Corps of Engineers,” he said. “It has been a long process. We submitted our permit to DEC in 2018 and received [approval] this past June.” 

Palumbo was also asked about the concerns raised by village residents, who want a public hearing and referendum on the matter. According to him, the village has worked closely with a coastal engineer who has provided an informed assessment of the proposed projects at East Beach.

“The village has been working vigorously with an experienced and qualified coastal engineer to develop a plan that will stabilize the bluff and protect the village asset that sits atop the bluff,” Palumbo said. “This plan has been presented and approved by a majority of the Board of Trustees, and is the plan that we believe is the best to preserve the bluff for many decades to come.”

Port Jefferson is not alone in its struggle against coastal erosion. Belle Terre is also taking up measures to counteract erosion of its beaches and mitigate storm damage. When asked if there was any intergovernmental cooperation between the villages of Port Jefferson and Belle Terre, Palumbo acknowledged the limitations of coordinating village responses.

“The Village of Belle Terre is a separate entity,” he said. “Our engineers had reviewed the measures taken and material used in Belle Terre, but believe the plan developed and materials being used to stabilize our bluff is the right plan that will last for decades to come.”

While the Port Jeff Board of Trustees has already approved a $10 million bond for the two-phased bluff project, Palumbo said the village is actively seeking grant funding that may subsidize the initiative significantly. 

“The village is looking at several funding opportunities, including through FEMA disaster declarations under Tropical Storm Isaias [last August] and Hurricane Ida; discretionary funds through Congressman Lee Zeldin [R-NY1] and Senator Chuck Schumer’s [D-NY] offices; and the [FEMA] Hazard Mitigation Grant Program.”

Huntington Town Councilwoman Susan Berland, Huntington Town Supervisor Frank Petrone, John Ross, Senator Carl Marcellino, Asharoken Mayor Greg Letica, Congressman Steve Israel and Asharoken Deputy Mayor Pamela Pierce cut the ribbon at the new Asharoken Village Hall. Photo by Steve Silverman

The new Asharoken Village Hall officially opened its doors with a dedication ceremony on Nov. 24, ending a 10-year journey of replacing a battered building at the center of the village.

“So many people came to join in on the festivities,” Asharoken Trustee and Police Commissioner Mel Ettinger said, referring to the more than 100 residents who gathered with Mayor Greg Letica, the board of trustees, Congressman Steve Israel (D-Huntington) and New York State Senator Carl Marcellino (R-Syosset). “It made it a fantastic event and a phenomenal success in every way possible.”

The new village hall opened for business last month and is a large expansion from the previous building — the ground floor alone is about 3,000 square feet. There is a larger, improved space for the police station, and the whole thing was built to be more environmentally friendly and energy efficient, with LED lighting and spray-foam insulation.

According to a statement, Letica said at the dedication that the process to get to the finish line has been long, and that Ettinger was a key player from the start.

“The project to build a new village hall was actually started almost 10 years ago … initially as an expansion to our old village hall,” Letica said. But funding either an expansion or a construction of a new building was always a major concern.

Ettinger said he started organizing the renovation project when he first became police commissioner, and was told he could go ahead with it as long as it didn’t increase taxes. That was when Ettinger decided to raise the money through donations.

Asharoken Mayor Greg Letica and Trustee and Police Commissioner Mel Ettinger at the front entrance of the new village hall. Photo by Victoria Espinoza
Asharoken Mayor Greg Letica and Trustee and Police Commissioner Mel Ettinger at the front entrance of the new village hall. Photo by Victoria Espinoza

“Within the first 10 days of announcing that, I received a check for $10,000 from a resident,” Ettinger said. “Before you knew it, people were sending in checks and pledges left and right. And within the next year and half, we already had $175,000.”

But when Hurricane Sandy hit three years ago, irreparably damaging the structure, the village ditched all plans of renovating it. Letica said the storm forced everyone in village hall to abandon the building and start an “urgent project” to erect a new one.

Joan Ettinger, Mel’s wife, formed the Asharoken Fundraising Committee, which according to Letica, ended up raising $360,000 from more than 200 residents and “has enabled the village to fund the cost of this beautiful building.”

Letica said funding was also made possible with help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which reimburses municipalities for repair work following natural disasters.

“Congressman Israel was extremely helpful with … processing our claim with FEMA and I am certain that if not for his personal support and efforts we would have not be able to receive the grant of $538,855,” Letica said.

He also said Marcellino helped the village obtain an additional $50,000 grant.

The total project cost about $950,000.

The new village trustee meeting room on the building’s first floor will soon have a donor board, where the names of people who have donated will be showcased.