Story and photos by Jay Cook
LEONARDO – Four years into the post-Super Storm Sandy era, a wave of redevelopment is finally washing onto the shores of an overlooked state-run marina.
The Leonardo State Marina – a 17-acre complex operated by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) – is beginning to show its first tangible signs of progress through the construction of a new marina office, a building essential to both management and users.
“There’s a little bit of a different clientele here,” said Maggie Mitchell, superintendent of Leonardo State Marina. “You have the daily launchers, you have the year-round seasonals, the charters, the sailboats. There’s all different types of user groups in here.”
The new marina office, which is currently under construction, will be a one-story structure located in a plot of land beside a temporary modular office where marina operations are currently conducted. This site, which is outside of the flood zone, sits across from the marina on the other side of Concord Avenue, which runs the length of the complex.
There are no grants being used to pay for the $995,500 project – funds are coming from the state’s recreational development portion of the corporate business tax, explained DEP spokesman Robert Geist. He also said the work was awarded to Catcord Construction Co. Inc., based out of Norwood. Twelve bids were received for the work, and the contract was awarded on Sept. 22, 2016.
In addition to office space for Mitchell and her staff, the building will provide new showers, bathrooms, a multipurpose room consisting of a kitchenette, tables and chairs, along with a lobby area.
Prior to Sandy, the marina was operated from an office located inside the main parking lot. After the storm, that two-story structure was damaged and subsequently razed.
When that office was taken down, along with it went all the previous amenities it offered. Since the storm, this has become a source of chagrin for boaters.
“After Sandy, everything was quite devastated over there – we lost bathrooms and showers – and over the years, they’ve been promising to get us bathrooms,” said Richard Caroselli, president of the Leonardo Party and Pleasure Boatman’s Association. “We’ve been having Johnny on the Spots ever since Sandy, and no showers.”
Capt. Mike Grecco of Westwind Charters, who has called the marina home since 1995, believes these upgrades can only help his company. “For our customers, it’ll be a wonderful convenience,” he said.
Grecco noted that he has told recent customers to stop and use the bathroom facilities at local convenience stores in order to avoid using those at the marina.
However, the location of the new building has also irked some boaters, who find its new setting to be an inconvenience.
“Even for some of the people coming in to launch their boats, they (previously) stopped, paid, went on and launched their boats,” Caroselli said. “Now they have to pull over, do a U-turn, come back around. There’s a little more congestion I think.”
The DEP’s reasoning for the new office location stems from a couple of issues.
As Geist noted, flood elevation requirement changes would mean the first floor of any building at the old location would be higher above ground than before. That, in turn, would raise the price of the project.
He also noted that the old building site did not meet accessibility requirements; if the building were kept there, parking spaces necessary to the marina would be removed to meet those needs.
Mitchell, the site superintendent, also believes the new office can suit the entire community of Leonardo, not only the boaters.
One way she hopes to engage locals is through continued educational programs started at the state marina last summer. Working in conjunction with the Conserve Wildlife Foundation of New Jersey, two week-long courses were used to educate children interested in aquatic life at the Sandy Hook Bay. Activities such as seining, fishing, crabbing and craft-making were taught.
Mitchell hopes that for next summer, the program can expand into something more than just engaging local youth.
“The marina’s so unique because it’s in a town,” she said. “I’ve always kind of said we need to become part of the community.”
Outside of the new office construction, other work invisible to the naked eye has taken place. Since Sandy, the channel going out to the Sandy Hook Bay had been dredged out, along with the marina channel itself being dredged last winter. Work on the bulkhead leading into the marina is expected to take place this spring.
Also after Sandy, a few longtime marina features were left off the rebuilding docket. A full-time luncheonette structure, which once housed local food vendors, was removed and never replaced.
The same goes for gas and diesel fuel pumps, an item that Grecco believes is essential to a state-operated marina.
Instead of fueling up a few hundred feet from his slip, Grecco says trips down the Shrewsbury River waste time before a day out on the water.
“That’s an hour round trip if there’s no boat traffic in Atlantic Highlands; if there’s guys lined up for fuel, I could be out an hour and a half doing it,” he said.
There are no plans to retain either the permanent gas or food structures at the state marina due to a number of refueling stations already on the river, most notably around the Highlands Bridge, and food vendors along the coast, Geist explained.
For Mitchell, the new office work affords opportunities for growth at the Leonardo State Marina, sandwiched between Naval Weapons Station Earle and Sandy Hook, and tucked back behind Route 36.
“I always say to everyone, it’s not just a parking lot with boats in the water; it has the potential to be so much more,” she said. “That’s something I’ve really tried to push and do since I got here.”
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