State won't rebuild part of Robert Moses boardwalk

Contractors work to rebuild a section of the Contractors work to rebuild a section of the Robert Moses State Park, Field 5 boardwalk after it was destroyed by superstorm Sandy. (March 20, 2013) Photo Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

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State parks officials won't rebuild some storm-wrecked sections of boardwalk at the east end of Robert Moses State Park in time for summer, and they are unsure whether they will ever replace them.

While the parks agency is hustling to repair tens of millions of dollars in superstorm Sandy damage elsewhere along the South Shore for the opening of beach season, Commissioner Rose Harvey said the devastation to the beach, dunes and boardwalk at Field 5 was exceptionally severe.

About a third of the 2,520-foot wooden walkway that runs along the beach and down to the water will be abandoned, and what remains of the sections, which are 820 feet -- support posts and beams -- will be removed.

The agency will decide whether to replace it in the future based on the results of a "resiliency study" of facilities at beachfront parks in light of the storm and rising sea level, Harvey said. In the meantime, the other two-thirds of the boardwalk is being rebuilt.

The boardwalk decision by the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation could be the first surrender to the new coastal reality in the region after Sandy and subsequent storms.

"When you experience the level of damage and the level of change as a result of Sandy, you adapt and build it better or not build it," Harvey said in an interview.

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Robert Moses attracts 3.5 million visitors a year. Field 5, one of four parking areas, is popular because of the boardwalk and its proximity to Fire Island National Seashore and the Fire Island Lighthouse.

Sandy carved down the height of the beach and dunes at Robert Moses by 8 feet. Sand used to come up to the bottom of the top boards on the boardwalk. Now the exposed upright support structures traverse the beach like miniature football goal posts.

Park advocates praised the decision.

"We have to rebuild smarter as we go forward," said Bryan Erwin, chair of the advisory Long Island State Park, Recreation and Historic Preservation Commission. "If they rebuilt the whole boardwalk, it might just get destroyed again."

The boardwalk portions that won't be rebuilt are those closest to the beach, on the ocean side of the natural dune line, and most exposed to wave action.

"Those sections were the most susceptible to damage," state parks deputy regional director George Gorman Jr. said during a tour of the beach. "Even before Sandy, the sand would be eroded from underneath them in storms. On the east side in particular, we used to have to close off the ramp because there would be a drop to the sand of several feet after a storm and it was unsafe until the sand built back up. We've had a constant problem."

Sandy stripped all of the boardwalk's deck planking and railings from the support structure, Gorman said.

The removal project and reconstruction of the rest of the boardwalk is being undertaken through a $1.2 million contract by Nagan Construction of Inwood. After digging out the sand deposited by the storm around the support structure, the company is installing steel "hurricane straps" to strengthen the structure before replacing the top planking. The work is due to be done by Memorial Day.

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