Contractors fixing storm damage on Fire Island beaches are being diverted to Florida so they can instead work on a beach near President Donald Trump’s country club, stirring a wave of controversy.
U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) sent a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) questioning the decision to divert crews slated to rebuild dunes flattened by Superstorm Sandy in 2012. Two dredge ships finishing beach repairs along Dune Road in Westhampton Beach were slated to work on FI next, but instead are being sent to repair a beach just north of Mar-A-Lago, the president’s so-called Southern White House in ritzy Palm Beach.
“The South Shore of Long Island and the communities on Fire Island still deal with the daily threat that the occurrence of another extreme weather event similar to the scale of Sandy could bring catastrophic levels of devastation,” Schumer wrote Sunday in a letter to Lt. Gen. Todd Semonite, commander general of ACE. “That is why the timely completion of coastal resiliency projects like [the Fire Island Inlet to Moriches Inlet project] is imperative and the sudden re-location of these dredges deserves scrutiny.”
The local work is part of the $281 million federally funded FIMI project that has been rebuilding dunes and berms along the oceanfront on the 32-mile barrier island that protects mainland LI from the Atlantic.
Weeks Marine, the dredge company pumping sand from offshore onto FI, was slated to complete work on beaches in front of Ocean Bay Park and Point ‘O Woods, two communities in the middle of the island, when the ships were called to Florida.
“The FIMI project was designed to bring much-needed sand to Fire Island after Hurricane Sandy,” a Point O’ Woods representative told the Press. “We are anxious to see the project completed and continue to work with the Army Corps and Weeks Marine in good faith toward successful completion by the June 19th deadline.”
A spokesman for ACE declined to respond to Schumer’s letter, but said the diversion won’t cause delays on FI. Barring equipment or weather issues, the two dredge hoppers are scheduled to finish in the Hamptons by early March, sail to Florida for a month, and be back in New York by April with enough time to finish the work on FI before beach season. ACE termed the work in its Jacksonville District as emergency beach renourishment, although Schumer disputed that.
“The work in Jacksonville District is expected to have no impact on that schedule,” ACE spokesman James D’Ambrosio told the Press.
“The Army Corps of Engineers has reconfirmed to Congressman Zeldin that the Westhampton Beach project will be completed on or about March 9 and the Point O’Woods and Ocean Bay Park project will be completed on or about May 18, which is prior to the contracted completion date of June 19,” said Katie Vincentz, a spokeswoman for U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley).
David Ruderman, a spokesman for the Corps’ Jacksonville district, told the New York Post, which first reported the story, that the diversion has “absolutely nothing to do with the fact that Mr. Trump happens to live down the beach from where this is happening.”