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June 20, 2018

Blaze on New York's Fire Island destroys 2 well-known gay resort landmarks; firefighters hurt

By Frank Eltman, The Associated Press

MINEOLA, N.Y. – An early morning blaze on Fire Island destroyed several structures, including two well-known landmarks in a historic gay resort, and required dozens of firefighters to respond by ferry from the mainland of Long Island, fire and police officials said Friday.

The fire, which was reported at about 1:30 a.m., ruined an apartment complex known as Holly House, as well as the Grove Hotel, and left three firefighters with minor injuries, said Craig Williams, Cherry Grove assistant fire chief. A nightclub attached to the hotel called the Ice Palace avoided serious damage, Williams said.

Cherry Grove has been known since the late 1940s as a sanctuary where gay writers, actors and businesspeople from New York City and beyond escape to relax, hold hands and show affection in public.

“This is the largest fire we have had here in well over a decade,” said Williams, a volunteer who lives near Hackensack, New Jersey, and drove to Long Island early Friday to respond to the blaze.

The Suffolk County police arson squad and the town of Brookhaven’s fire marshal’s office were conducting routine investigations to determine the cause.

Two private homes were destroyed and three others also were damaged, Williams said. None of the structures or homes near the downtown business district in the primarily summer beach community was occupied.

The nearby Cherry Grove Community House and Theater, which opened in 1948 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2013, was not damaged, Williams said.

More than 100 firefighters from 22 departments responded to the blaze; some were taken by the Sayville Ferry Service across the Great South Bay to the scene on the barrier island about 60 miles east of Manhattan. It was not immediately clear whether the time to cross the bay to fight the fire contributed to the amount of damage inflicted by the blaze.

Williams and others noted that the historic Cherry Grove community, like many of the hamlets and villages along the 30-mile long barrier island 5 miles off the southern shore of Long Island, is primarily deserted this time of year.

“Thank God it wasn’t the height of the season,” Diane Romano, president of the Cherry Grove Community Association, told The Associated Press after touring the devastation Friday afternoon. “Everyone would not have gotten out of that hotel. It is devastating and will take a lot of work to build it back, but the spirit of the people in Cherry Grove is very strong and we’re all going to help each other.”

Notable Cherry Grove visitors and residents have included poet W.H. Auden; playwright Tennessee Williams; author Truman Capote; actresses Nancy Walker, Tallulah Bankhead and Hermione Gingold; comedian Kaye Ballard; and New Yorker journalist Janet Flanner.

Source article – 

Blaze on New York's Fire Island destroys 2 well-known gay resort landmarks; firefighters hurt

Sandy-hit towns wrestle with eminent-domain choice

ASHAROKEN, N.Y. (AP) — On a tiny spit of land off Long Island, the wealthy village of Asharoken faces a dilemma borne of Superstorm Sandy.

Either it accepts millions of dollars in federal aid to build a protective sand dune and for the first time in its nearly 90-year existence allows the public to use its beach or it rejects the aid and retains its privacy, potentially worsening an erosion problem that saw part of its main road washed out and power lines toppled during the October 2012 storm.

But some of the 600-plus residents in the village of million-dollar homes worry opening up the area could lead to traffic problems, trespassing and more garbage.

“I think privacy, pollution and safety, these are the three main concerns,” resident Asenneth Elsin said. “I don’t have a problem sharing, but unfortunately there will be people not following the rules.”

Asharoken is just one place where the tussle among coastal protection, property rights, public access and federal funding is playing out in New York and New Jersey, both hit hard by the storm.

Much of the damage was caused by storm surge, which flooded or destroyed homes and washed out boardwalks. In some places, such as Surf City on Long Beach Island in New Jersey, dunes held off serious damage while neighboring communities without such protection were nearly wiped out.

Now there’s a movement afoot to build or replenish dunes before the next storm. After Sandy, Congress granted the Army Corps $5.3 billion to study damaged areas and for projects to build dunes, enlarge beaches and install structures to slow sand movement.

Before work can begin, though, property owners must sign agreements allowing access to parts of their property for eternity. And to get the federal funding, communities must agree to provide public routes to the funded beaches.

If they decide to keep the beaches to themselves, it’s either find a way to pay for dunes or risk getting flooded again.

New York and New Jersey officials have said they’re committed to seeing the work through, even if it means getting courts involved. They say taking property by eminent domain is a possibility.

Asharoken lies between Long Island Sound and a harbor on the narrowest part of a peninsula connecting mainland Long Island with the community of Eaton’s Neck at the tip. It has about 300 homes. Residents who don’t live on the water can buy beach-only lots, and they leave kayaks, patio sets, umbrellas and more on the property.

The Corps is studying an estimated $30 million plan to build a dune and berm and enlarge the beach. In a letter to residents, Asharoken Mayor Greg Letica said if the village didn’t accept the federal funding it would cost homeowners up to $100,000 apiece to restore the beach.

If the Corps project moves forward, Asharoken may have to take property to create public beach access and compensate homeowners. The problem: Because of its small population, it has an annual budget of just over $2 million, so Letica is asking officials to ease the public access requirement.

Asharoken is among several places in New York where the Corps is studying or building dunes.

Some structures may be demolished on Fire Island, a barrier island for Long Island that’s dotted with beachside communities and home to a national seashore, to make way for a project.

Breezy Point, a cooperative on Queens’ Rockaway Peninsula that flooded and burned during Sandy, was given a $1.2 million grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to study building a $57 million dune with a sea wall.

In New Jersey, 11 Corps projects are planned, but it hasn’t gotten all homeowners to sign easements.

“We’re looking to make our shores more resilient,” said Bob Considine, a spokesman for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection. “We’re doing this for the good of the entire shore and New Jersey.”

A 14-mile dune project from Manasquan Inlet to Barnegat Inlet has some of the most holdouts, with the boroughs of Bay Head and Point Pleasant Beach accounting for nearly 200.

In Point Pleasant Beach, much of the boardwalk and beach are privately owned to the mean high-water mark, and several large businesses operate amusements there.

Jenkinson’s Boardwalk, the largest beachfront property owner, said building a dune would erase beach areas where volleyball, movies, weddings and other events are held. The owners said they don’t believe a dune would stop flooding because properties behind Jenkinson’s weren’t flooded by Sandy’s surge.

The borough has approved granting an easement on property it owns, but 69 other property owners haven’t.

“I understand their concerns, and in a perfect world we wouldn’t do this,” Mayor Vincent Barrella said. “But we don’t have that. We live in a post-Sandy world.”

___

Emily C. Dooley, a Newsday reporter on leave, is studying community resilience issues, the ability of communities to bounce back from various shocks, as part of a nine-month fellowship at the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, which joins NORC’s independent research and AP journalism. The fellowship is funded by the Rockefeller Foundation.

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Sandy-hit towns wrestle with eminent-domain choice