After Hurricane Sandy shut down Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge over a month ago, there appears to be a light at the end of the tunnel. During a tour of the damaged park last week, officials announced the refuge will be open to the public by the end of January.
Robert Smith, Deputy Chief Engineer for the Department of Transportation said the road, which is currently impassable, will be not only cleared and repaved, but that they plan to build a “stone armor” to shield against future storms. Smith said they expect to put out a contract for the work within five days.
“This isn’t a quick fix,” added the Refuge Manager Charlie Vandemoer.
The concrete slabs that were washed up on Sachuest Point Road will be reused to armor the landfill cap, said Smith.
The road work, estimated at $1.5 million, will be funded by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Federal Highway Administration. Smith thanked U.S. Senator Jack Reed for his swift efforts to get funds approved for the project, which he said was granted 24 hours after the request was submitted.
Reed serves as the Chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior & Environment, which oversees the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s annual $1.5 billion budget.
“It is one thing to rebuild,” said Reed about the plans to strengthen the shield. “But if it’s just going to get knocked off in the next storm, it’s just putting good money, after good money, after good money.”
This week, the Appropriations Committee unveiled a $60.4 billion emergency Disaster Supplemental bill to help pay for damage resulting from Sandy. The supplemental includes $78 million to meet immediate reconstruction and recovery needs for national wildlife refuges on the Eastern Seaboard, as well as $150 million for the U.S. Department of Interior to undertake restoration, recovery, and mitigation priorities to protect against future storms and natural disasters.
Vandemoer estimates that 200,000 visitors come to the refuge annually.
"That's commerce for Middletown," said Middletown Council President Chris Semonelli as he thanked the agencies for working together.
Work is almost completed to repair the paths as well as relocate about 600 feet of trail in order to protect against future storms, said Vandemoer.
One of those relocated pathways provides access to what he said was the best view of Rhode Island. The trail work will also introduce two new scenic areas that can accommodate groups and a new Price Neck Overlook.
The overlook is named for the 600 million year old African rock called the Price Neck Formation.