AROUND NJ

Hurricane Damage Exposes Sandy Hook’s Military Past

By Lauren Wanko
NJ Today

The Gateway National Recreation Area in Sandy Hook hasn’t reopened since Superstorm Sandy shut it down Oct. 28. The recreation area was pounded by a 13-foot tidal surge.

“We saw flooding out here that we’ve never seen before,” said Sandy Hook Unit Coordinator for the Gateway National Recreation Area Pete McCarthy.

Six-foot sand drifts covered roadways, parking lots transformed into resting places for mountains of sand, 80 to 90 percent of Sandy Hook’s dunes washed away, four of six beach centers were damaged and entire concession stands were ripped to pieces or blown away.

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“We had situations where the water, the sand, the wind, you take every element here and it got into some of these buildings and it kind of looked like a washing machine on an agitator cycle,” described McCarthy.

The sewage treatment plant was compromised. Now there are no operating restrooms in Sandy Hook. According to McCarthy, the sewage treatment plant sat at about four feet of water for close to two weeks. “It took us two weeks to get to the ground water down. There was compromise to the electrical system there so we’re kind of limping along trying to repair it at this point,” he explained.

Along with ongoing power restoration efforts and beach and building repairs, the storm has refocused attention on Sandy Hook’s military history.

McCarthy said, “Beginning in the mid to late 1800s, the United States proving ground, the Army’s proving ground where they tested weapons, was actually out here in Sandy Hook so we have a variety of gun batteries that were built.”

During the weapons testing, unexploded shells settled into the ocean and beach.

“What we were very, very concerned about when we got out here was the amount of erosion that might have occurred or how much sand movement there were, how much we would end up with ordinance out here,” said McCarthy.

An 18-person crew just finished combing the seven miles of beaches with metal detectors in search of unexploded shells and other military weapons. They uncovered two shells from the World War II era.

Officials are still calculating the cost of the damage. Their goal, like so many other shore communities, is to open portions of the park by Memorial Day.