With temperatures in the 40s made cooler with a brisk breeze under partly sunny skies, Greenwich officials joked they were embarking on the proverbial "three-hour tour" of television's "Gilligan's Island."
In reality, it was a 90-minute tour of Greenwich's Island Beach to view the devastation of Hurricane Sandy on Friday. Clad in winter jackets, hats, gloves and scarves, First Selectman Peter Tesei, Selectman Drew Marzullo, and Board of Estimate and Taxation Budget Committee members Republican Joseph Pellegrino (the committee chair) and Democrat William Finger, saw for the first time, the damage the town must decide how to repair. Parks and Recreation Director Joe Siciliano and Marine Division operations manager Craig Whitcomb led the tour.
The visit was important for Pellegrino and Finger as the budget committee continues the budget process for the 2013-14 fiscal year and for Tesei who must consider the repair work as he develops his operating and capital improvement projects budget proposals that must be submitted to the BET by Feb. 1. And it remains unclear whether Island Beach will be repaired in time for the 2013 beach season.
Post Hurricane Sandy, as the landing craft cruised closer to the island, there were rows of timbers—resembling vertical waterborne toothpicks. The wooden walkway and sun canopy is missing as are many giant concrete slabs. Plastic water lines lay broken and exposed. The only remnants of the small sun canopy to the east of the dock, are a couple of concrete pilings. (Siciliano explains the damage in the first video at right.
As the small landing craft glided onto the beach, Whitcomb and boat captain Scott Beatty called out, "ready for the bump." The group literally walked a plank to disembark.
A giant sandbox
The island is covered with a two-foot thick layer sand—creating a veritable sandbox. A backhoe has been brought in to clear walkways of the sand and to help move other debris. Towering mounds of sand are piled at the south end of the island near the pavillion.
Siciliano said a team of consultants will begin their assessments Monday of damage at all of the town's recreational facilities including Greenwich Point and Byram Beach where there was extensive erosion, seawall collapses and damage to sun canopies, concession and bathhouse facilities. He hopes to have their report in 2 to 3 weeks so officials can begin their own review and prioritization of the work to be done. Siciliano said it would take a week to inspect the Island Beach damage and calculate the costs.
Tesei said based upon previous storm damage repairs, he would expect costs to be in the $1 million range.
Caretaker Jay Manning, who moved off the island before the storm, said the force of the winds and tides were evident by the relocation of two 750-gallon propane gas tanks. The tanks had been stored against a southern seawall—on Friday, they were lying against the trunks of trees several feet away. Three 25-foot long railroad ties that measured 12-by-12 inches had been stored near the garage. Two are now lying in the middle of the island; the third is missing.
A generator was brought in to power the caretaker's cottage, however, there isn't any heat because of the propane tank situation. The water wells were contaminated with sea water, Manning said.
Competing for supplies, manpower
One of Siciliano's concerns is Greenwich will be competing with hundreds of communities along the Eastern Seaboard—from New Jersey, New York City and Long Island—for limited rebuilding supplies and resources.
"This is all special timber ... You can't go down to Home Depot and pick it up," Siciliano said.
One advantage Greenwich has for the rebuilding of the island's dock, Siciliano said, is that it already has the engineering and design plans from the dock rebuilding and repairs from 1992 and 1996. "We won't be starting from scratch...we will have to tweak them," Siciliano said.
But logistics, timing and weather also will be factors.
Siciliano is hopeful the town will be able to hire contractors to augment work by town employees. In 1992, the town was able to rebuild the concrete dock platforms by floating a cement truck out to the island rather than using smaller hand mixers masons commonly use when building stone walls.
Finger expressed concern on the impact on the town's other beach facilities if Island Beach repairs cannot be completed in time for the 2013 season. Siciliano said adjustments to staffing would have to be made. (Please see video.)
Paying for it
Greenwich will have to front the money for the repairs to its facilities including Island Beach. It will then seek reimbursement from its insurance carriers and the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA).
"In preparation for the storm we took more than 400 photographs of our facilities two days before the storm so we could prove 'this is what it was like' before the storm," Siciliano told the BET members. At the nearby Great Captain's Island, there is some dock damage and extensive erosion on the south beach, Siciliano said.
"We want to document everything...every single branch, tree," Siciliano added.
Finger and Pellegrino praised Siciliano for having the foresight to document the town's pre-storm recreational infrastructure. "That's really smart," Pellegrino said.
"The damage is pretty extensive ...the concrete damage and the erosion seeds my imagination (of the storm's strength)," Finger said. "We have to see what the numbers are going to be and how long it will take to make the necessary repairs."
Finger added, "I need to reserve judgment ... when we do make the repairs, we need to do it the right way as opposed to taking shortcuts and getting it done quickly."
Marzullo said the tour gave him a "wow moment ... you’re reminded of what weather-related emergencies can do and what destruction the wind and rain can have."
He added, "We will be able to benefit from a federal FEMA reimbursement. But you have to put the money up front of course and until the check clears in the bank, it is our responsibility. We have to be able to pay for…we’re talking about a beach, roads, the dock ..."
Pellegrino said he was surprised by the devastation. Repairs need to be made, he said, "But they need to be put in context with Tod's Point, Byram Shore, our parks and other issues that may take priority." And those priorities must be set by Tesei, Pellegrino said. (Please see video.)
Nearly three weeks after the hurricane, enough cleanup was completed at Greenwich Point so that it could be partially reopened on Nov. 17.