East Lyme's aging town dock wasn't in great shape before Superstorm Sandy struck in October but it really took a beating when the storm surge rolled in.
In a letter to First Selectman Paul Formica, Captain Greg Dubrule of the Black Hawk sportfishing boat, which is one of several commercial boats that rent dock space from the town, explained the extent of the problem.
"We've made dozens of Band-Aid repairs over the years to both the dock and the buildings. I've spent thousands of dollars of my own, trying desperately to keep ahead of the problems," he wrote. "In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the dock condition has worsened to the point that it is now unusable. The extreme tidal surge has broken everything in its path. Many of the dock pilings, which are the backbone of the entire dock, have shifted and are now at an angle. The landing is just hanging there after dropping more than a foot. This is an urgent safety and liability issue for the town of East Lyme."
Dubrule wrote that even though his phone was ringing off the hook with people eager to go fishing before the close of the season, he had to cancel trips because his employees and even a few customers had fallen through the rotten planks of the dock.
"The dock is way beyond the condition where I can try to repair it anymore," Dubrule wrote. "I am requesting that the town of East Lyme consider a major upgrade or rebuild of the dock. I hope you can make this a priority, as we start fishing again in the middle of April."
Who is Responsible for Repairs?
Under the terms of the lease, Dubrule is responsible for maintenance and repairs of the dock and the building he rents. "He knew what condition the dock was in," Formica said. "Clearly the responsibility was on him."
Having said that, however, Formica concedes that maintenance and upkeep typically refers to normal wear and tear, and Superstorm Sandy was anything but that. Formica told the Board of Selectmen that some of the FEMA money the town expects to receive will probably be used to repair the docks.
Additionally, the town has applied for a grant to install a water and sewer system in the area in order to build a public bathroom. The Black Hawk's dilapidated ticket office, which also was badly battered by the storm, will likely be torn down to accommodate the new building.
Indeed, the entire area is slated for improvement as part of the major renovations planned for Cini Park. Future plans include a new park and picnic area, an expanded parking lot and permanent bathrooms, all of which will serve the increased traffic to a significantly larger beach and new boardwalk once Amtrak construction is complete.
A New Lease on Life
So how will the fishing boats fit into this new vision? Formica said the town originally decided to rent out the dock to support the local fishing culture. Until now, the docks have been rented at fairly low cost to the fishermen. Some pay as little as $1,000 a year.
The Black Hawk, which is the biggest boat moored at the dock and has full use of the parking lot, paid $7,500 last year, which was a reduction from previous years because of the anticipated disruption created by the Amtrak bridge construction in 2012.
Knowing that plans for Cini Park would be coming to fruition in 2013, leases for all the boats that use the docks were set to expire in December 2012. However, Formica said he'd like to continue to support the local fishing industry and, with that in mind, the town is currently renegotiating all the dock leases.
"We have not signed the leases yet but we expect to have it done by next month," Formica told the Board of Selectmen on January 2.