By JOE FISHER
Officials at the Sandy Hook unit of Gateway National Recreation Area plan to reopen only three of six ocean beaches for Memorial Day weekend, and to cap parking on the storm-socked peninsula at 2,500 vehicles, half the normal capacity.
That could mean earlier-than-usual visitor cutoffs well into summer, resulting in more beach-seekers than usual heading to the next available patches of sand in Sea Bright.
Even before (Hurricane) Sandy, on a nice summer weekend, Sandy Hook would always be filled up by 11 a.m. or noon, and we would get the overflow traffic, said Sea Bright Mayor Dina Long. So when youre looking at cutting Sandy Hooks parking in half, then it would make sense to expect double the amount of overflow that were accustomed to at an earlier time of day.
Sandy Hook has been closed since the storm, but parts of the park, including its two campgrounds, will open May 1, when visitors can return to fish, hike and bicycle, according to Daphne Yun, a National Park Service spokesperson. Beach B, North Beach and the clothing-optional Gunnison Beach will open Memorial Day weekend. Three other beaches are expected to re-open at later dates.
The federal government has earmarked close to $35 million for work at Sandy Hook to restore roads, trails and buildings and to fix water, sewage-treatment and electrical facilities damaged by Hurricane Sandys 15-foot tidal surge last October 29.
Some $30 million has been allocated for Sandy Hook from the Sandy relief package passed by Congress in January. An additional $5.2 million was awarded through the federal Department of Transportation Emergency Relief for Federally Owned Roads Program.
The park service anticipates spending approximately $18 million on buildings, $5 million on trails and beaches, $3 million on utilities, $2 million on equipment and $2 million on roads, said Yun.
Among the projects slated are repairing and repaving roads, parking lots, boardwalks and the seven-mile multi-use path; fixing beach facilities and restrooms; restoring ferry service from New York to Sandy Hook; restoring fishing opportunities, and resuming public interpretive programs.
Visitors should expect to find temporary restroom facilities when the park reopens, because repairs to the wastewater treatment plant will not be finished by Memorial Day, officials said. That’s why vehicle access will be limited.
The expected overflow of visitors into Sea Bright is a two-edged sword, said Long.
I see this as both a good thing and a bad thing for Sea Bright,” she said. “Good, because it will generate more business in town, but bad because its going to cause major traffic, parking and congestion problems.”
Long expects the increased overflow will require additional police on duty.
Still, were very happy to see Sandy Hook reopening, she said.
Along Route 36, signs posted north and south of Sandy Hook in Highlands and Long Branch will alert motorists if the park if the park is filled, Long said.
Post-storm work at the park started out slowly, with concerns that buried, unexploded shells across the former military installation and proving ground might have been exposed by the storm surge. The sweeping of beaches with magnetometers recovered two World War II era shells one suspected to be live at the maintenance area and near the fishing area known as F Beach.
High foundations at Fort Hancocks officers quarters on the Sandy Hook Bay side saved those deteriorating buildings from further damage, but the storm surge washed away what was left of their sagging wooden porches.
Additional work at the park includes: opening Horseshoe Cove; opening the Lighthouse Keepers Quarters and the Sandy Hook Lighthouse; and making Fort Hancock safe for visitors, officials have said.