The Christmas blizzard worked havoc on the Port Jefferson beach shore, which had already been battered by earlier storms. In a worst case scenario that became reality, the wind the blew first from the northeast, then from the northwest at times up to 50 and 60 miles per hour. Anyone walking now will see banks of sand washed away, uprooted trees, broken stairs and a devastated parking lot.
On a beautifully blue sky and crisp breeze January day, seagulls and ducks in their dozens were eagerly feeding along the shore. Waves lapped the parking lot rip rap leaving no trace of a beach. Beyond the beach entrance the shoreline was even more steeply gutted with big rocks tossed by the waves. Half of the parking lot was already fenced off and posted with Danger signs after previous storms. Broken asphalt has been removed. Two bashed metal stairways remain.
How does the village go about repairing all the devastation and how is it paid for?
“We are working hard on this,” said Mayor Garant. “There is a great deal of cooperation between the parties involved. We are pulling the money together, but realistically, no major work can be done until late fall 2011.”
Further details came from Village Trustee Lee Rosner who is the liaison from the village to all the layers of government involved in the restoration.
“In 2006, there was a dredging done of Mt Sinai harbor inlet and Cedar Beach and sand was moved to re-nourish the Port Jefferson beach,” said Rosner. “The tempestuous northeast and northwest storms of the intervening years - especially this winter - have shifted the sand back onto Cedar Beach and into Mount Sinai harbor.”
Port Jefferson also has a problem with the former gazebo area at the foot of the road leading down to the beach.
“The rocks placed there also produce currents which lead to the scouring away of the sand to the west,” Rosner said.
The Army Corps of Engineers did a comprehensive study on the Mount Sinai side of the breakwater. It recommended building a revetment from the heel of the jetty on the Port Jefferson side along the western edge of Mt Sinai inlet and increasing the beach elevation profile between the toe of the dune and the heel of the jetty with sand.
“If all their proposals were adopted it could cost $9 million,” said Rosner.
The proposals have already been studied by representatives of Suffolk County, Town of Brookhaven and Port Jefferson Village. The county is responsible for the dredging and distribution of the sand. The town owns and must fix the breakwater. The village is responsible for the parking lot.
"At this time, the county, town and village are aiming to move forward with one of the Army Corp's options that is estimated at roughly $6 million dollars,” said Rosner. “A substantial amount of the required funds have been tentatively committed to by the county and the village. However, due to the current budgetary crisis in Brookhaven Town, its contribution remains undetermined. There may be Federal Emergency Management Agency grants available but only for damage directly related to a disastrous storm. Help is likely but not yet promised.”
“Once we have our plans and financing established, which is soon, the whole proposal goes to the Department of Environmental Conservation,” said Rosner. “That approval process could be lengthy. Thereafter the work has to be scheduled. Dredging can only take place within small windows of time.”
Presumably that will take place after the boating season and before the storm season. Storms and nesting birds offer a challenge in the spring as well. Rosner said he believes that there will be swimming allowed on West Beach and maybe at some places on East Beach this summer. According to Rosner, it is highly likely that the village can start on some of its repairs by late fall 2011.
“As an aside,” he said. “If you want to find where some of the sand might have gone, try swimming as I do from to East Beach. There are places now even fifty feet out where it is too shallow, and sandy, to swim. Yet, I love the water and will continue to be in it.”
On this bright January day, the sound of singing rang through the air from a girl on one of the swings on the beach playground. Her name was Leila Makditi. She grew up in Port Jefferson and is now a post-graduate student at Stony Brook University. She says she walks the two miles from home at least once a week to swing on the beach.
“I love it,” she said. “I couldn’t live without it. All my friends feel the same way. We need the ocean in our life.”