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Deficit delays beach dredge

By Brian Bohl

When the Army Corps of Engineers started work on a $5.7 million project in January to dredge Jones Inlet in Point Lookout, civic and government leaders said the undertaking was just the opening salvo in a long-term effort to combat coastal erosion and protect property.

But New York's budget deficit could delay the start of the $120 million storm damage reduction project that would protect waterfront homes against flooding in Point Lookout and neighboring Long Beach, Assemblyman Harvey Weisenberg (D-Long Beach) said.

A large-scale storm damage reduction project would extend the benefits of the dredging project to Long Beach and Lido Beach. Donald Cresitello, the Army Corps of Engineers' project planner for the Long Beach study, said the primary purpose of the Point Lookout undertaking was to expand passageways for boats to navigate safely, with the coastal fortification an ancillary benefit.

Cresitello said a storm damage reduction project differs from simple dredging in that it calls for the implementation of new groins, which are jetties that extend from the shore to curtail erosion. It also would help block water from extending into Point Lookout's nearly 600 houses along the Great South Bay.

"The plan we have on the books looks at building dunes, rehabbing existing groins and add new groins in the Point Lookout area," said Cresitello, who added that $40 million of the $120 million would be allocated for Point Lookout. "Basically, your primary benefit is the reduction of damages from wave attacks and erosion."

But experts said erosion-control measures are not one-time fixes. Like roadwork, any type of dredging requires occasional touch-up work, though there are provisions for repairs in Jones Inlet.

"A maintenance-dredging permit is good for 10 years, so that allows them the time to do the project once and possibly if it needs some more work, to come back at a subsequent point in time if in fact it's needed," said Bill Fonda, a New York State Department of Environmental Conservation spokesman.

Weisenberg joined with State Sen. Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) to help acquire state funding for the Point Lookout dredging project after water came within 10 feet of some of the hamlet's 600 houses following a nor'easter in 2007.

Another influx of private money might not be as readily available. Army Corps of Engineers officials said storm damage reduction project construction could start within two or three years if the funding comes through-something lawmakers said is questionable in the current economic climate.

Weisenberg said Nassau lawmakers would like to secure financing for the plan but said he is not optimistic about acquiring funding as the state tries to slash an expected $12.5 billion deficit projected for 2010.

With Democrats controlling both houses of the state Legislature and the governor's office for the first time since the New Deal, Weisenberg said it's possible the plan could be approved if state finances improve, though he also said that is a long shot.

"We're not talking about beach restoration or anything else," Weisenberg said about the state government. "Any money that was laying around is gone. No one is going to give you $100 million and say 'go fix the beach.'"

Joe Olha, the Army Corps of Engineers' Jones Inlet project manager, said Point Lookout's beaches were replenished with 640,000 cubic yards of sands during a project that stretched from Jan. 13-March 3. The venture also removed sand by a jetty in the inlet, clearing the way for boats to navigate the area safely. Jones Inlet connects the Great South Bay to the Atlantic Ocean.

Herb Abbe, the president of the Point Lookout Civic Association, said the dredging project was a positive first step that will be nullified without the benefits of a storm damage reduction project.

Abbe, who called the Jones Inlet work a "band-aid" for the long-term erosion problems, said residents who live on Parkside Ave. and adjacent Ocean Blvd. are worried about flooding if nothing is done.

"The dredging of the inlet was fairly successful and while we've lost a lot of the sand already because of the nor'easters and storms, the trick is still the storm damage reduction project," Abbe said. "It's going to give us a continuous dune and extend the jetties, and with that, we hope to have better protection in terms of getting rocked by Mother Nature."

Lillian Hess Tanguay, an associate geology professor at Long Island University-C.W. Post, said unlike some other public works projects, the need to continually infuse funds to maintain coastlines makes it a prime candidate to be passed-over for other endeavors.

By putting the dredged sand just west of the inlet, on the eastern end of the barrier beach, Hess Tanguay said the government can have a relatively inexpensive means of providing sand that needs to be reapplied constantly.

"One of the problems politicians have with beach replenishment as a fix for beach erosion is that as soon as they do a dredging project, a few storms come, and the sand is moved," she said. "But they aren't really spending money if they just take the dredge material and dump it close by. It's a lot cheaper to dump it there."

While politicians will try to find funding for public works projects when the new Legislature meets for the first time in January, planning officials said the details for a storm damage reduction project are being finalized in a re-evaluation report.

"We would then move into plans and specs before construction," Cresitello said. "This would be contingent on federal and non-federal funds."

Abbe said local lawmakers came through before and is hopeful a deal can be reached, but added the community is realistic about a modified timetable that could start in the next decade.

"We're optimistic, but with the financial crisis and the budgetary constraints that face the federal government and state and local governments as well, I don't think it's going to happen in the immediate future," Abbe said.

Cresitello said delaying storm damage reduction measures would put the safety of beach-goers and residents at risk.

"You run a general risk of loss of beach and dune through continued erosion and possible damage to public infrastructure as well as life-safety issues."

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