Amid a fresh political fight with Westchester Democrats, the county's top elected official went to Rye Playland on Friday to celebrate the repair and reopening of its storm-battered south boardwalk, a day before the historic amusement park's opening day.
"It's a big victory for the taxpayers," County Executive Rob Astorino said before a ribbon-cutting to mark the boardwalk's reopening. "They came out ahead on this and the public will enjoy Playland as they normally do."
On Oct. 29, superstorm Sandy ripped through Playland, destroying electrical systems, mangling wire fences and turning the boardwalk into a splintered wreck. Friday's ceremony marked a notable step in Playland's long road back, Astorino said.
"I remember that day, October 30, when we were here and it was sad, because everything was destroyed here," Astorino said. "We had three feet of water, rides were damaged, the ice casino was severely damaged and it was like a war zone. We vowed that day we were going to rebuild and we were going to get it ready for the season."
"They did a great job. They worked hard," he said. "It was an aggressive schedule, but they did it on time and under budget."
Astorino didn't specify how far under budget the project was completed.
FLACK OVER THE AWARDING OF CONTRACTS
A new storm rose over the boardwalk repairs earlier this week, when county Board of Legislators Chairman Ken Jenkins (D-Yonkers) sent a letter to District Attorney Janet DiFiore, asking her to investigate alleged favoritism in the awarding of county public works contracts -- including Playland repairs.
Titan was awarded the contract after another firm, Mace Construction of New Rochelle, initially won the contract in March, only to have the decision rescinded.
Astorino has rejected the criticism from Jenkins, saying the awarding of the contract to Mace was canceled because the whole process had taken too long, reaching beyond the period authorized by law. Astorino has said the county Legislature was partly responsible for the delays that finally led to the unraveling of the Mace deal.
On Friday, he called the charges relating to Mace "political garbage" and took advantage of the occasion to pitch his plan to turn management of Playland over to the nonprofit group Sustainable Playland.
"Unfortunately, there are people who want to stop any progress, who want to stick their heads in Playland Beach sand and pretend there are no problems here," Astorino said. "This is important to fix. This is a symbol of Westchester. It's been a money pit, a drain on the taxpayer, and that has to be reversed."
On a sunny, warm, morning, Westchester residents turned out to see the new boardwalk and gave it a thumbs up.
Jessyka Calzolaio of New Rochelle, who was at the park with her 17-month-old daughter, said she had come to look at the damage after Sandy.
"You couldn't even get over here and we were just worried that Playland was gone," she said.
Of the new boardwalk, she said, "I wanted to see it and make sure it was all intact so we could be here all summer."
As with all government projects, there were critics. Thomas Turner, 50, of Rye, questioned the choice of wood. Titan used ipe, a Brazilian hardwood, to rebuild the south boardwalk.
"It looks like a nice job," Turner said. "I don't know if this would have been my choice of wood. I might have gone with something recycled, but it looks good. It'll last a long time, so they say."
The fate of the north boardwalk, which was demolished by Sandy, has yet to be determined. County officials explain that the north boardwalk has been destroyed by storms on several occasions in recent years, calling into question whether a wooden boardwalk is practical, in the area.
With Xavier Mascarenas and John Dyer