Suffolk County Police photo
Prep work on beach replenishment project begins
California-based government contractors with the Dutra Group began mobilizing — laying down pipes and preparing an area where piping plovers nest — Monday as part of the U.S. Army Corps’ $47.9 million beach replenishment project at Smith Point County Park in Shirley.
Under the Army Corps’ plan, 2.5 million cubic yards of sand will be placed at varying heights between 13 and 15 feet high along Smith Point’s roughly five-mile coastline. The sand placement will include graduated sloping, a design consistent with the habitat of the piping plover, and Burma Road, a roadway leading to Moriches Inlet that is used by recreational beach drivers as well as county workers conducting maintenance of the jetty, will remain intact once the dunes are restored.
“The contractor is beginning to mobilize, so we are hoping to be pumping sand shortly,” said Army Corps spokesman Ken Wells Monday afternoon. “Right now, we are looking to finish construction in winter 2015.”
The work is estimated to begin Dec. 17.
U.S. Rep. Tim Bishop, who has worked to fast-track the project, said the replenishment project is on schedule from what the Army Corps planned — after the restraining order was lifted — in that the preparatory work was expected to start in mid-to-late-November. The dredge that will be pumping sand out onto the beach is currently in Alabama, but is on its way up north and is expected to start work within the next 10 days, he said.
“It’s long overdue and I am delighted that it is finally getting done,” he said.
The dune replenishment project was fast-tracked earlier this year after residents expressed concern about how the barrier island would hold up in the event of another big storm like Superstorm Sandy, which caused massive flooding across the bay in low-lying areas of Mastic Beach in 2012. A temporary restraining order granted in federal court as part of a lawsuit filed by the National Audubon Society, which had concerns about the habitat of piping plovers, an endangered shorebird that nests at the park every spring, stalled the project back in September.
The order was lifted a month later in October, allowing the Corps to proceed with the award of the contract.
Mayor Bill Biondi, who has pushed for the project to be completed from a public safety aspect, said the workers are starting from Moriches Inlet and they are working their way west. The dredger Stuyvesant, has been described as a huge ocean vessel with sleeping quarters and medical staff on board, he said.
Biondi said he, as well as fire and emergency management officials, expect to meet with the dredger after deadline on Wednesday to discuss access to emergency services, because the ship’s crew will be working off the ocean 24 hours a day to get the project completed, and they want to know what kind of resources they have at their disposal.
“They are going to be running around the clock seven days a week,” he said.
Biondi said he is glad the work is underway, but he still has concerns another big storm could roll in.
“They started on the east end and probably will not get down to the Mastic Beach end of the replenishment [project],” he said. “I just hope the nor’easters continue to be as mild as they are. I went down to the beach yesterday and it’s pretty low there, so another storm could definitely jeopardize the residents of Mastic Beach.”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recommended in a biological opinion issued in the spring that the Corps fund up to $10.5 million over the projected 10-year life of the project for various measures to protect the piping plovers and other species that nest at the park. Those measures include predator and vegetation management, effectiveness monitoring, the maintenance of buffers around construction sites, breeding plovers and the areas designated for off-road vehicles. The opinion also recommended maintenance of nesting and foraging habitat by the use of vegetation management on three overwash areas and two restored areas along the beach. The creation of ephemeral pools where plovers can forage on Great Gunn Beach, another foraging and nesting area on a nearby dredge disposal site, and the creation of an interagency team to develop a coordinated effectiveness-monitoring program to document performance were also suggested in the plan.
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