NPS Photo/J. Dunphy
Watch Hill project completed
The National Park Service will be operating at Watch Hill on Memorial Day.
The $7 million renovation project, with construction beginning in 2016, has basically rounded the pass. “It’s still closed as of now; there’s a punch list that has to be completed and we haven’t closed out the contract yet,” said Fire Island National Seashore superintendent Christopher Soller. “But the construction work is done. And the marina, lifeguard stations and visitor’s center will be open.”
Soller emphasized that new, raised bulkhead — all 3,841 linear feet of it — electric stanchions, water improvements and boardwalk around the marina are all in place. “We’ve elevated the electric transformers so they’re protected from flooding and reset the piles. We did that this spring,” he said. “The marina complex will look very different.”
Sailors Haven will be operating as well, Soller said.
Soller said the electric pedestals at Sailors Haven, installed two years ago, were also repaired. “The stanchions were shorting out,” he said. “They couldn’t take the electric load.” There are 14 slips at Sailors Haven.
Watch Hill’s electrical improvements were taken into consideration after addressing Sailors Haven’s issues, Soller said. “Boaters keep adding things to their system, but they didn’t have the proper wiring,” he said. So wiring codes were being introduced to put in place.
There are 175 Watch Hill slips available to private boaters, 140 with electric, per FINS facility manager Jim Dunphy. Slips are rented from the concessionaire.
While Watch Hill will be open, there’s no guarantee there will be a concession operation, Soller said. The previous concessionaire’s 10-year contract is up and a selection process is underway. The contract includes the marinas, food and beverage services and retail sales at Watch Hill and Sailors Haven, as well as campground services at Watch Hill.
“The prospectus is still open until March 15,” Soller explained. The U.S. National Parks Service Northeast Regional Office in Philadelphia will make the final decision.
“We’re out of the equation,” he said.
Fire Island Concessions LLC, the previous concessioner, is owned and operated by the Stein family, who also own Sayville Ferry Service. They were the Watch Hill/Sailors Haven concession operators until October 2017. Calls to the Steins requesting comment on whether they bid on the new contract were not returned at press time.
Charles and Matt Sherman, owners of the Davis Park Ferry Co., with Stephanie Sherman, met with FINS last week about resuming service to Watch Hill.
“I have not seen it as of yet and the buoys are not in yet,” said Charles Sherman of the marina and their ferry slip. “We had a meeting with Chris Soller last week. We don’t have a ferry schedule yet. That will be a while.” He said the ferry’s usual spot is at the dockmaster’s tower and interpretative building.
“During peak season we make five trips daily during the week and eight during the weekend,” he said. “We had not only boaters but a lot of day people come to Davis Park last season. People will have to get used to coming to Watch Hill again, so hopefully it will come back.”
In July 2015 architects, engineers, project managers and Federal Highway Administration staffers huddled at FINS offices in Patchogue, although the scope of the repair began before then.
The contract was awarded to Woodstock Construction LTD, who started work in September 2016 to replace the electrical and lighting systems, adjacent bulkhead and boardwalk. Last September, girders were supplemented and backfilling of some areas of the bulkhead were addressed as part of substructure work.
FINS estimated the project in 2015 at about $8.5 million. “When the bid came in it was under estimate,” Soller explained. “So we had money to address the increased substructure work. We extended the contract through December.”
The U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration provided funds for the decking, electrical and water service work. The National Parks Service contributed to the bulkhead. In addition, FINS staff constructed an accessible ramp to the upper commons area, updated the visitor center exterior, repaired the upper nature trail/wilderness-viewing boardwalk and removed the ice-damaged platform and staircase to the bay, per Dunphy.
Soller said there were no major weather delays and crews worked steadily from September 2016 to December 2017.
It was historically a big task. “This was the most extensive work we’ve done since the 1960s,” pointed out FINS assistant superintendent Kelly Fellner.
Visitors will get a nice surprise with the outer metamorphosis of the 650-square-foot visitor center, which has been re-shingled; new windows, door and roof have been added. The three-quarter-mile Salt Marsh Nature Trail has undergone major repairs. The 11 small homes FINS owns for park and concession staff as well as their artist-in-residence program have undergone minor repairs like shingle replacement.
Watch Hill enthusiast, boater Rudy Pinka, who owns Craftsmen Fence Corp. in Center Moriches, didn’t use the boat the family sleeps in at Watch Hill last year, he said. “We’ve been going to Watch Hill every weekend in the summer for 15 years,” he said. “I do understand the extent of the work that had to be done. From a boater’s perspective, I would have loved it done in stages, but that’s in the past, so we’re looking forward to getting back to the beach.”
Soller said a grand opening with a ribbon cutting ceremony hasn’t been established. It’s too soon.
“This completes our Superstorm Sandy project,” said Soller of the work done. “It’s taken us 5 1/2 years.”
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