United Illuminating vowed to restore power to all New Haven customers by the end of Saturday, and Mayor John DeStefano pledged to seek disaster relief money to help clean up a storm-wrecked harbor, as the city recovered from Sunday’s hurricane.
UI VP Tony Marone and DeStefano made those announcements at a press conference Friday in Long Wharf Park, which DeStefano said was the city’s most damaged asset in the storm. Damage and cleanup costs are estimated at $13 million, DeStefano said. That includes only public property, not private homes. The city will submit that figure to Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which is offering 75 reimbursement of hurricane costs, according to the mayor.
As of 1 p.m. Friday, 1,570 UI customers in New Haven remained without power. Marone said the company aimed to restore another 600 customers in the city before the end of Friday. UI intends to restore power to the remaining 1,000 by the end of Saturday, Marone said. Any customer whose power is still out by the end of the day Sunday should report it to UI’s customer care center at 1-800-7-CALL UI (1-800-722-5584).
The perimeter of New Haven Harbor saw the worst damage when Hurricane Irene brought a storm surge of 5 to 6 extra feet of water Sunday, said DeStefano. The storm wreaked $1 million in damages to the Sound School; $300,000 to Lighthouse Point Park; and $7 million to Long Wharf Park. The city plans to reopen Lighthouse Point Park Saturday in time for three weddings. The horses in the carousel have been sent to an undisclosed hideout until the city conducts repairs.
High tide and pounding waves during the storm came over the pedestrian walkway near the Fusco building at 1 Long Wharf Drive (pictured) and ate away at the shoreline.
Long Wharf Park, a long, skinny stretch of grass squeezed between I-95 and the harbor, was particularly vulnerable to the storm. The waves eroded the land, cracking asphalt on the pedestrian path through the park. It displaced some of the riprap, big stones piled up along the shoreline to protect the sandy soil.
A city-hired engineering firm, Langan Engineering, estimated it will cost the city $3.5 million to bring the park back to its pre-hurricane condition. The firm estimated it would cost another $3.5 million to make additional improvements to protect the park against further storms. The city has long sought to better protect the shoreline there, in part because the sea level is rising, according to City Plan Director Karyn Gilvarg. She said the city will be reporting both numbers to FEMA as part of the $13 million total.
Asked how the city will pay for the 25 percent of costs which are non-reimbursable from FEMA, DeStefano said the city will find a way. “In a $480 million operating budget, we make adjustments.”
DeStefano encouraged New Haveners to be thankful for how New Haven fared. Unlike in towns like East Haven, where homes were swept into the sea, “no one got hurt, and in New Haven, at least no one lost their homes.”
The damage to Long Wharf didn’t stop 84-year-old Frederick Mayo from his routine of driving over to the park from Bella Vista to stroll beside the water. Friday afternoon, he stopped to inspect the paling leaves of a fruit tree. He stopped his walk when he came across a thick tree trunk that was blocking the path. Mayo said he lived through the hurricanes of 1938, 1954 and 1985.
“We will endure, as we always have in the past,” he said.
Kevin Merrill, a vacuum-truck driver for United Industrial Services, took a break Friday afternoon to grab a McSweeney’s hot dog. He and his coworker grabbed a picnic table at Long Wharf with a view of the open harbor.
Merrill shrugged off the receding shoreline nearby.
“Mother Nature just reclaims what’s hers,” he said.