By Sarah Chrichton

Federal administrators have denied funds for a protective underground wall envisaged as part of the Ocean Parkway-Jones Beach dune repair project.

The plan to build the subterranean stone wall, reinforced by marine-grade steel, behind the dunes along a portion of Ocean Parkway is not being done because federal emergency highway funds can only be used on work to restore the road to its pre-disaster state.

Still, state officials are pressing ahead with a commitment to reopen the Sandy-damaged entire parkway, fixing the Robert Moses traffic circle and beach in time for Memorial Day weekend — a timetable construction industry representatives call ambitious.

Plans issued to five prequalified Long Island construction firms last week call for restoring the pre-Sandy beach profile at Gilgo, Tobay and in front of the Robert Moses State Park traffic circle, rebuilding the dunes, as well as repairs to the traffic circle roadway and a 1.6-mile stretch of Ocean Parkway. Most of the work must be completed by April 24 with stiff penalties — $25,000 a day — if the successful bidder runs behind.

The protective wall, behind the dunes along a stretch of Ocean Parkway's eastern verge, was proposed to add a protective layer at a weak spot where Sandy's storm surges first obliterated the dune and then washed over the roadway.

Contractors were told Tuesday, however, that this option to "harden" the roadway would not be done. State officials said Wednesday it remained on the drawing board and could be incorporated into the project at a later date, or via a separate contract.

"It's off the table as of this instance with this job, but on the table as a policy the state DOT wants to pursue," said one source involved in talks, who sought anonymity due to the competitive bidding process.

Federal Highway Administration rules for emergency repair work allows for 100 percent reimbursement to the state provided work is completed within 180 days of the disaster. Under the rules, emergency funds can be spent to immediately minimize damage, protect the remaining road and restore a road to how it used to be.

Ed Blakely, who was appointed New Orleans recovery czar after Hurricane Katrina, said the rules were a safeguard for taxpayers and it would fall to President Barack Obama's point man on Sandy, HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan, to make a special case.

"But it will take time because it will require presidential waivers or legislative changes, as we saw in New Orleans," Blakely said.

An amended scope of work for the project was to be issued to the five prequalified Long Island firms — Bove Industries, Grace, Inter-County Paving Inc., Pratt-Scalamandre and Posillico — late Wednesday or early Thursday morning, according to state officials.

The firms have until Monday to submit bids, with the state set to award the contract quickly so that work might begin by Christmas.

Long Island Contractors Association head Marc Herbst said those involved remain concerned at the compressed time period and the challenges involved — particularly the amount of dredging required for the project and the winter conditions that affected curing times for concrete.

"Acquiring materials in a timely manner with qualified, competent subcontractors and suppliers are the challenges. There's no doubt in my mind that this will be accomplished, but given the winter season and the logistics, it is going to be a real test," Herbst said.State officials say there is precedent for the work — a December 2009 storm required immediate demolition of the Crown Point Bridge across Lake Champlain on the New York-Vermont state border and contractors worked through the winter to replace it. Tropical storms Lee and Irene knocked out some 400 New York road segments and 40 bridges but after executive orders issued by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, 20 emergency contracts were awarded and state and private workers replaced the lot.

Officials point to the re-routed traffic on Ocean Parkway, which enables the selected contractor to work across an entire closed eastbound stretch without traffic holdups.

"We're fighting the elements, the ocean and potential winter storms which could impact the work schedule dramatically, so it's a crapshoot," said one construction source. "It's a big bite there's no question about it."

But not having to build the underground wall would save between six to 10 weeks of work, he estimated. "They've done us a favor in that respect and hopefully it can still be done later."

This article was originally published by Newsday