Hurricane Sandy takes Rye Playland for a whirl
A piece of the Rye Playland boardwalk -- complete with a bench and two lampposts -- was floating in Long Island Sound on Tuesday, a striking example of the damage wrought by Hurricane Sandy.
A midnight storm surge, strong winds and a high tide under a full moon demolished the northern portion of the Westchester County-owned amusement park's boardwalk, bent metal fences, tore stone slabs from walls, toppled trees and pushed water into the parking lots, leaving sand, seaweed and trash in its wake.
"It's obvious Sandy did a lot of destruction at Playland," said County Executive Robert Astorino as he surveyed the damage during an afternoon tour with County Parks Commissioner Kathleen O'Connor and the media. "It's sad to see Playland in this kind of condition."
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It wasn't yet clear if any of the amusements were damaged during the storm, but they were all standing. It also wasn't clear if salt water had hurt the park's electrical systems, Astorino said.
Hardest hit among the buildings was the Ice Casino. Water crashed through doors and rushed into the building, O'Connor said. Workers on Tuesday were cleaning out debris from the building. "Sand, salt and fish came into the ice rink," she said.
Astorino and O'Conner didn't yet have a cost estimate for the damage, but they said they would likely know by the end of the week.
The county is self-insured, so unless the damages were substantial enough to trigger a reinsurance claim, taxpayers would be on the hook for repairs, the county executive said.
Astorino vowed, however, that the boardwalk would be rebuilt. "It's such an iconic part of the park. We will be rebuilding."
Some repairs to Playland also would likely be part of negotiations between the county and Sustainable Playland, a nonprofit that Astorino has designated as a future operator of the public park, the county executive said.
Sustainable Playland doesn't yet have a contract to run Playland, but the group has unveiled a plan that would change much of the park, including razing rides and buildings. While those plans and repairs to hurricane damage might be coordinated, the county would almost certainly need to pay to rebuild the boardwalk, Astorino said. "This is our responsibility," he said.
He noted that repairs could be paid for with reserve funds specifically set aside for such disasters. The county is facing an $86 million budget shortfall next year, and Astorino has vowed not to use reserve funds or tax increases to bridge the gap. Instead, he's been calling on unions to make concessions or face layoffs.
"When I talk about the reserve fund, this is what the reserve fund is for, the unexpected," he said. "Not operating costs."
Residents from around the neighborhood mulled around the park's entrance Tuesday, but Westchester County police barred them from coming inside.
Rye resident Chris Gardiner said he was on the beach on Monday night to watch the Category 1 hurricane, even though authorities warned people to keep away from the dangerous shore. On Tuesday afternoon, he returned to check out the damage.
"The waves weren't that big," he said. "But the surge came up pretty much over the boardwalk for a while."
Like many residents, Gardiner said he had fond memories of Playland. He was disappointed to see it ravaged by Sandy. "I used to play hockey down there," he reminisced.