As the northeast continues to recover from Hurricane Sandy’s historic destruction two weeks ago, federal and state disaster relief officials visited the Vineyard on Thursday to assess damages and help begin the reimbursement process for damages to town property sustained during the storm.
Initial estimates to town and county owned coastlines and property Island-wide swelled to over $14.2 million this week, with $13 million stemming for repairs in Oak Bluffs alone.
Representatives from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA), and Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management met with several Vineyard town emergency management directors throughout the day, including Tisbury, Oak Bluffs and Chilmark, to tour badly affected sites. All six towns are applying for aid from severe erosion, road damage, tree cutting, employee wages and structural damage. West Tisbury is applying for $3,000, $40,000 in Edgartown, $101,500 in Aquinnah, $910,000 in Chilmark and $13 million in Oak Bluffs. Tisbury is still calculating monetary damage but estimated it will be over $100,000. The county of Dukes County is requesting $62,125 for damages at Norton Point Beach and Joseph Sylvia State Beach.
For beaches across the Vineyard, funds will likely only be available for engineered beaches where sand is re-nourished on a regular basis or stone revetments are in place to quell erosion.
This week towns began filling out preliminary damage assessments with assistance from MEMA and FEMA officials. The towns and county will individually apply for reimbursement through MEMA, which will in turn present a state-wide request to President Obama for a disaster declaration to make the monies available. Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York, which suffered from some of the greatest damage during the hurricane, said this week he plans to request $30 billion from the federal government for aid.
The FEMA representatives who visited the Island on Thursday were from the public assistance team, and advised private homeowners to file separate claims.
Disaster officials toured Oak Bluffs via boat on Thursday morning.
“They’re going to do their best to help us out,” Oak Bluffs board of selectmen chairman Kathy Burton said after the site visit. “They’ve got a detailed analysis of what was damaged and the monies associated with repairing those places.”
East Chop bluff, East Chop Drive, the North Bluff sea wall, and Pay, Inkwell and Jetty beaches all qualify for damage reimbursement, Ms. Burton said.
“They’re clearly very interested in doing everything they could to help us out.”
East Chop Drive remains closed from Brewster avenue to Munroe avenue on the ocean side lane until funding becomes available to repair the badly damaged road that began to slump several days after the storm hit. Ms. Burton said repairs to the bluff are estimated at $8 million.
In Tisbury, assistant harbormaster John Crocker said that the end of Own Park dock was pushed up by the storm and moved closer to the shore. Vineyard Haven Marina general manager Liz Wild said the marina “got hit big time.”
“It was floating debris that caused the damage,” she said. “The waves were pushing debris up against the dock and that caused the significant damage.”
Tisbury emergency management director Christopher Cini brought the FEMA and MEMA team to survey Owen Park, the sea wall along Beach Road, West Chop and other town-owned sites that were damaged during the storm. He estimated town property damage to amount to the “hundreds of thousands”.
“We’re looking to both FEMA and MEMA to start crunching numbers, and hoping at this point for a disaster declaration,” he said. “We’re fairly confident.”
Mr. Cini said it will be a “long multi-step, multi-month process.”
In Aquinnah, funds will be requested to repair Lobsterville Road, which suffered severe slumping along the road and the abutting Lobsterville Beach. The road itself will cost $85,000 to repair, town administrator Adam Wilson said, and $15,000 to restore the beach berm.
Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) natural resources director Bret Stearns said the tribe will also apply for FEMA money to help repair the road and beach. He reported that natural resources rangers are still patrolling the cliffs, which took a significant hit during the hurricane and lost a few more large lumps after last week’s heavy rain.
“We’ve seen the worst of it immediately after the storm. Just like any other cliff, it’s going to continue to move,” he said. “We’re continuing to patrol down there because there’s no archaeological digging down there, no use of clay, you can’t bring utensils to pick at the clay. That’s a big concern for us.”
“We’ve spoken to quite a few people already,” he added. “All with innocent intent.”
In Chilmark, town executive secretary and emergency management director Tim Carroll brought one member each from FEMA and MEMA and a coastal zone management representative to Squibnocket and Lucy Vincent beaches, as well as Menemsha harbor. The town of Chilmark is seeking funds for repairs to the parking lot at Squibnocket, which was badly damaged, the revetment walls along the beach and within the harbor. The town will not qualify for funds to restore Lucy Vincent Beach because it is not an engineered beach and FEMA does not qualify lost dunes as structural damage.
Mr. Carroll said the town has lost two feet of elevation over the past 10 years from storm surge and erosion, and may need to look to alternative parking solutions for future repairs.
“We didn’t get hit by this storm, we just got a really bad storm surge,” he said.
He pointed further down the beach to several homes positioned perilously on the cliff, some only inches away from the edge. Earlier in the week, the Chilmark conservation commission discussed the erosion issues caused by the storm. Coastal bank soft erosion solutions, which include vegetation and light netting, had been washed away, conservation agent Chuck Hodgkinson said at Wednesday’s meeting. The commission is expected to act on requests to move some of those homes in the coming weeks.
Mr. Hodgkinson said many of the neighbors along Stonewall Beach, where the homes are located, are working together to develop an erosion mitigation plan.
“I don’t know how they’re doing it, but they’re trying to collaborate together,” he said. “Some of them don’t have land to move the house back. I’ve already talked to one about demolishing one.”
Commission chairman Pamela Goff said even though the soft solutions were swept away, they helped to stop the impact of the surge.
“Maybe if it hadn’t been there it would have been worse,” she said. “It isn’t futile to put in soft solutions. People shouldn’t be totally discouraged.”