By Jay Cook |
SANDY HOOK – Communities up and down the Jersey Shore have essentially rebuilt since Super Storm Sandy devastated New Jersey’s coastline in 2012.
However, one of the region’s most vital marine outposts had yet to accomplish the same.
That all changed July 3 when the United States Coast Guard celebrated Independence Day early with the official “recapitalization” of Station Sandy Hook – an upgraded, state-of-the-art $54 million facility left battered from Sandy’s wrath.
“We’ve got to have the type of capability to respond to any type of big national security threat or natural disaster,” said Chief Warrant Officer Seth Hunt, commanding officer of Coast Guard Station Sandy Hook. “We can’t do that if our facilities don’t support our people.”
A $54 million appropriation by Congress after Sandy allowed for a full-fledged reconstruction. Topping the list of new structures is a 20,276-square-foot “multi-mission building” which houses all administrative and executive duties on the base. Station Sandy Hook carries out search and rescue, living marine resources and marine safety missions.
The multi-mission building is elevated 14 feet above the floodplain and is designed to withstand a Category 3-level storm and floodwaters from a 500-year flood, said Capt. Patrick J. Dugan, commanding officer of facilities design and construction center.
A boat maintenance facility only a few hundred feet away from breaking waves along Sandy Hook Bay will serve as the primary tool shed for Coast Guard engineers. A 50-ton marine lift was constructed to help service the small boat fleet with vessels ranging from 29 to 49 feet in length.
The piers and water front that were virtually destroyed during Sandy have been completely rebuilt. Floating docks and pilings can handle up to 15-foot storm surges while sand shoaling was dredged to allow for the return of two Cutter-class vessels last August.
“These measures will ensure the station will continuously serve the people of New Jersey throughout even the worse storm events,” Dugan said.
A small-arms firing range was also erected on the north end of the base. Equipped with 10 lanes, it offers a “cutting edge” virtual training range as well as areas to fire frangible and lead rounds.
Coast guardsmen actually had to travel back and forth to Fort Dix for their mandatory small-arms training, said Hunt. That round trip could take nearly four hours.
“It’s really awesome that we can just walk across the street to take care of all our training and our proficiency,” he said. “It’s really going to help us take it to a new level.”
Since Sandy, Station Sandy Hook has undergone immense changes, said Chief Warrant Officer Troy Loining, who was the station’s commanding officer when Sandy made landfall six years ago.
When the storm hit in late October 2012, Loining said the piers were essentially destroyed. Boats were moved out and it took about five days for vessels to get back in the water along the base. When he left Station Sandy Hook in June 2013, “we were still working out of portable trailers in the parking lot.”
But on Tuesday, Loining was back at Station Sandy Hook, a base where he’d spent nine years of his 30-year career.
“I guess the best way to put it is it’s really improved,” he said. “What I see is new and improved facilities that can withstand a lot bigger, worse storms.”
With those enhancements, Sandy Hook’s Coast Guard installation may prove to be a blueprint for new base construction around the country, noted Rear Adm. Melvin W. Bouboulis, the Coast Guard’s chief engineer. Storm damage along the Gulf Coast and in Puerto Rico left bases ruined after hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria blew through the Gulf of Mexico last summer.
“I’m very encouraged at what I see here because I know we got the right folks to deliver great infrastructure improvements to improve our resiliency and really the functionality of our facility,” Bouboulis said.
“What you’ve done here is truly magnificent and I do believe it’s really going to be an example for around the country,” noted U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (NJ-6).
Tuesday’s ribbon cutting ceremony also served as a “historic” day in Coast Guard Station Sandy Hook’s history, said Rear Adm. Andrew J. Tiongson, commander of the First Coast Guard District. The relationship between the barrier island and the Coast Guard dates back to 1849 when the first U.S. Life Saving Station was opened on Spermaceti Cove. That station is now preserved at the Navesink Twin Lights in Highlands.
Coast Guard Station Sandy Hook has also played a vital part in protecting the greater New York City water-ways; the base’s area of responsibility stretches from Long Branch outward to 50 nautical miles offshore, while also covering New York Lower Bay, Raritan Bay, Raritan River, a portion of the Arthur Kill and the east side of Rockaway Beach.
Tiongson said the base was “one of the first groups of boats on scene” after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and helped evacuate 500,000 people from Lower Manhattan. The Sandy Hook outpost also regularly serves as the staging ground for the United Nations General Assembly every September.
“Our presence here today, I believe, is a silver lining from the storm,” Tiongson said moments before the official ribbon cutting. “The bricks and mortar that we dedicate today will house new generations of Coast Guard men and women who will selflessly serve our nation well for many years to come.
This article first appeared in the July 12 – 19, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.
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