Suffolk Bill Seeks to Advance Fire Island Dune Project, Buyouts

Newsday     May 14, 2014      By Joan Gralla and Rick Brand

Suffolk advanced the federal storm-protection plan for Fire Island this week, with the county executive's office introducing a bill to spend $46 million buying out 41 properties that lie in the way of a new dune.  The county would spend another $11 million to move about a half-dozen homes, obtain more than 700 easements and cover additional expenses under the resolution filed Tuesday with the Suffolk County Legislature.

All of the money would be reimbursed by the federal superstorm Sandy relief bill.

Suffolk might have to kick in extra dollars if any homeowners balk at buyouts, officials said.  In that case, the courts would determine the properties' value, said Public Works Commissioner Gilbert Anderson.

"If the homeowner says, 'No, I can't live with this, my land is worth more,' then we have to condemn it," he said.

The Army Corps of Engineers, which hopes to start building the dunes in September, has tentatively estimated the buyouts at $46 million. The actual prices will not be set until appraisals are done.

"The federal government will not pay anything above their assessed value, so that then leaves it up to the state and more particularly the county to cover those costs," Anderson said.

Fire Islanders initially were promised buyouts would be based on their properties' pre-Sandy value. The switch to post-Sandy prices has prompted some homeowners to rush ahead with repairs that had been delayed by battles with insurers or the scarcity of contractors.

"I'll take what I paid," said Dr. Emil Chynn, 48, a surgeon whose Ocean Bay Park home stands in the new dune line.

Bill Russell, 60, a financial adviser whose Davis Park home also is targeted, criticized the Army Corps' plan for not seeking to relocate more homes. "There is still no mention of moving houses which are capable of being moved, which is economically more prudent," he said.

New dunes for Fire Island and Montauk are included in a $700 million storm-protection plan for the barrier island and South Shore. Most of the money would be spent on the mainland, raising thousands of flood-prone homes and stretches of coastal roads.

Suffolk Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider said the resolution is a step forward for the needed project. "We're doing everything we need to do to reinforce and strengthen the shoreline," he said.

But Legislature. John Kennedy (R-Nesconset), the minority leader, said the bill raises "a tremendous number of questions," about the federal government's procedures.

"If these are second homes or rental properties . . . I don't want to see Suffolk taxpayers shouldering the burden," he said.