By John Burton
SANDY HOOK — It’s been a rough few months as contractors, National Park Service staff and volunteers worked to restore the Sandy Hook national park to something approaching useable for visitors for the coming summer season.
The work they are doing is paying off as park service officials have announced some of the park’s recreation areas will be available for use by May.
According to the National Park Service (NPS), Gateway National Recreation Area at Sandy Hook, which sustained extensive damage from Super Storm Sandy in October, will be partially operational by the summer season. The park has been closed to the public since Sandy but will once again allow public access by May 1, NPS spokesperson Daphne Yun said.
Park officials are also expecting to have three beach areas – Gunnison, North Beach and Area B – available for public use by Memorial Day weekend, Yun said.
“Things are looking up here,” Peter McCarthy, Sandy Hook’s unit coordinator, said this week about the cleanup and restoration of the park and services. “We think we’re doing extremely well considering the circumstances a couple of months ago.”
During the last few months, contractors and crews have been digging out some areas that had tons of sand piled up, including parking areas D and E, where the parking lots and structures were buried. “For all intents and purposes we’re almost all cleared,” in the two parking areas, he said. “We still have to do some work” on lot C.
One of the major challenges facing the park service is getting the sewer system fully operational. In a press release last week, Yun said the site’s wastewater treatment plant is not expected to be completed by the end of May; beach areas will be serviced by temporary restroom facilities.
“The sewer is our No. 1 challenge,” McCarthy said. He and his fellow workers spent more than two months without running water and had to use portable restroom facilities.
Another significant challenge facing the park service continues to be the collection and removal of debris that was strewn on both the ocean and bay sides of the beach. Workers and volunteers have been cleaning up the remarkable amount found there, including typical items, such as timbers, which wash up every winter. Some of the more unusual finds have been a section of a bar and patio deck plus a couple of large metal Dumpsters that have made their way onto the beach.
Along with that, the lifeguard stands have to be extracted from a rather inaccessible location where they washed up due to the storm surge, McCarthy said. A contractor will use a small crane to retrieve them.
Work that still needs to be completed includes paving the roadways and bike/multipurpose path that buckled in numerous locations from the force of the water. Federal highway contracts will need to be awarded for that work. Once they’re awarded, “We’ll see great strides,” McCarthy said.
Less certain will be the future of the Seagull’s Nest restaurant and bar and concession stands.
While the NPS has assessed some of the damage to the building, it is waiting to receive a structural engineering study before repair work can begin. “We’re trying to figure out a plan for how we’re going to take care of visitors in regards to concession operations,” McCarthy said.
Repairs are not expected to be completed by Memorial Day to the path and commuter ferry dock, located at the park’s Fort Hancock area, Yun said.
The National Park Service has allocated $30 million for Sandy Hook repairs with the money coming from funds authorized by Congress and President Obama, Yun said. The money is being divided into five categories: $18 million for buildings; $5 million for beaches and trails; $3 million for utilities; $2 million for equipment; and $2 million for road repair.
On top of that, the federal Department of Transportation is contributing another $5.2 million for road and multipurpose path repairs, Yun said.
Gateway areas – Sandy Hook, Jacob Riis Park in Queens, N.Y., and Great Kills Park on Staten Island – were “hit especially hard,” Yun said.
People should remember that “the federal government works differently than city government, the private industry,” Yun said. “If it felt as if it took a long time … we’ve actually moved along pretty quickly in the federal government sense.”
The only other obstacle, she noted, could be the ramifications of the federal sequestration cuts.
“All I’ve heard was that it’ll impact Sandy [recovery funding],” at some point, she said. “But I don’t know anything further than that.”