Elected Officials Lobby Federal Government To Raise Dune Road

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A group of East End elected officials announced Friday morning that it will collectively lobby the federal government to finance the raising of flood-prone Dune Road, from Quogue Village to the Shinnecock Inlet in Hampton Bays—though at least one Southampton Town official remains skeptical that such a request will gain any traction in Washington, D.C.

Several politicians took turns speaking about the collective effort to attain the estimated $8 million necessary to raise the road between 16 and 20 inches, a plan that will include appealing to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to pressure the federal government into setting aside the necessary funds. The push also includes requesting that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers take on the entire project itself—a demand that Southampton Town Highway Superintendent Alex Gregor, who attended the press conference held inside Oakland’s Restaurant on Dune Road in Hampton Bays, thinks is unlikely to happen.

Mr. Gregor, who is seeking reelection this Tuesday and is being challenged by David Betts, the town’s chief code enforcement investigator, also questioned the timing of the announcement, which came 11 days before Election Day. He noted that he was given less than 24 hours’ notice of the event.

But U.S. Representative Tim Bishop, whose office organized Friday’s press conference, laughed off a question about whether the timing of the announcement had to do with upcoming election, saying that it had to do exclusively with “the Corps’ process of working their way through the different priorities they’re going to try to accomplish.”

Representatives of the Army Corps’s New York district did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

Last Thursday, Mr. Bishop and U.S. Senator Charles Schumer submitted a written request to the Army Corps of Engineers to take on the project, drawing money from the Hurricane Sandy disaster relief appropriations. The federal government designated $742 million to be spent on dredging federal navigation channels and repairing damage to Corps projects; Dune Road qualifies since it was added this year to the Fire Island to Montauk Point Reformulation Study, a comprehensive renovation outline that’s more than 50 years in the making.

Mr. Bishop said he is “feeling pretty good” about attaining the funding from the federal government to finance the project, but said it is not by any means guaranteed. He did not give a specific timetable for when he could hear back from the Army Corps, but expects the authority will make its decisions about which roads it will work on within the next few months.

The group that spoke at Friday’s press conference also included Town Supervisor Anna Throne-Holst and Suffolk County Legislator Jay Schneiderman, both of whom are seeking reelection on November 5. Also in attendance were Town Councilman Chris Nuzzi, who is running against Mr. Schneiderman for county legislator, Mr. Bishop, State Assemblyman Fred Thiele Jr., State Senator Kenneth LaValle and Quogue Mayor Peter Sartorius.

According to Mr. Bishop’s letter submitted to the Corps, 1,375 homes and 36 businesses on Dune Road in Hampton Bays, East Quogue and Quogue were damaged by Hurricane Sandy and are still at risk.

In an interview after Friday’s event, Mr. Gregor said he doubts the Corps will pick the project up. He is hopeful, however, that an application his office submitted to the New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services that afternoon will bear fruit.

Mr. Gregor noted that the town has already completed the engineering work to make sure the road raising project is shovel ready if the funding does come through, or if the Corps agrees to take on the project by itself. He added that raising Dune Road is a necessity for the town as an average high tide is now enough to flood it.

“We call it the highway through hell,” Mr. Gregor said of Dune Road. “It’s 5.1 miles in the Town of Southampton, from the inlet here to the Quogue Village line. We did get a permit, we do have construction plans ready to go. We also have the mitigation aspect to offset the loss of wetlands that will be a result of elevating the roadway.”

Mr. Gregor said there is a “hunger” among contractors to take on large-scale projects such as this and he expects there to be a lot of competition if funds are acquired and a bid is put out. He added that for every dollar put into disaster mitigation, the town would save three times that in repairs down the road.

Mr. Sartorius said Quogue is included on this request, but it is also exploring other options independently as there are tentative plans to raise Dune Road within its jurisdiction.

“There’s no question that the problem has gotten worse, and it will continue to get worse, so this is a very timely time to be seeking to actually get this project done,” he said, referring to the town project.

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