Pleasure boaters and longtime commercial fishermen joined Sen. Charles Schumer's call Monday for federal agencies to get a light tower working again and end what has become treacherous nightly trips through the dark Jones Inlet.
"My office has been deluged with complaints from pleasure craft owners and fishermen that the lighting is out and dangerous," Schumer (D-N.Y.) said at a Jones Beach news conference. "It's like driving down a dark suburban road at night with no lights."
Superstorm Sandy knocked out the jetty light tower and it won't be repaired by the Coast Guard until October when the 2014 fiscal year begins. Boaters and fishermen said Monday that jetty rocks dislodged by the storm have also made navigating the inlet a hazard.
Light tower repairs also can't start until the jetty has been restored by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Coast Guard Lt. Jeff Janaro said.
Repairs to the jetty and removal of the rocks from the inlet could start in September, said officials with the Army Corps of Engineers, which will oversee that project.
A contractor must be selected through a bidding process, which will begin soon, said Chris Gardner, of the corps.
That's too long to wait, said Schumer and others, such as retired fisherman Mike Jacobs, who uses the inlet regularly and sometimes doesn't return until after sundown. Before the storm, the light from the tower at the end of the jetty would brighten the area, helping pleasure boaters and commercial fishermen make it through, even in rough waters and high tides, Jacobs said.
Schumer called on both agencies to start work as soon as possible to get the light tower working and the inlet cleared of jagged rocks by the end of the summer. The last weeks of summer are typically the busiest on the inlet as pleasure boaters and commercial fishing vessels crowd the narrow waterway. New York is ranked seventh in the nation among recreational boaters, according to data from the National Marine Manufacturers Association. Schumer said Long Island's waterways contribute greatly to the state's ranking and should get immediate attention.
The funds aren't an issue either, according to Schumer, with billions in Sandy aid earmarked for the projects, which the senator said are expected to cost close to $1 million combined.
Jacobs, 68, said he has avoided trouble in the inlet but has seen others run aground on the jetty rocks.
"Coming back into the inlet, the light blends in with the other lights in the background," Jacobs said. "But at least it was manageable then, now it is very difficult."