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East Lyme - When Hurricane Sandy hit Crescent Beach, the storm surge so damaged the landmark bluff that a section of the iconic walkway crumbled.
The Crescent Beach bluff overlooks Niantic Bay, and the walkway used to run atop the full length of the bluff along a row of mostly century-old homes. It was built on land owned by the Crescent Beach Association, the homeowners' association for the beach area.
"It just hit that one spot and caused an avalanche, so to speak," said Pam Bartolotta, who witnessed the damage after the storm when she returned to her Carpenter Avenue house near the collapsed walkway.
Rocks had fallen away, the chain-link fence broke off and a section of stone wall between the walkway and her yard fell into the hole where the walkway once was.
Three weeks after the storm, the association has installed a fence to block off the stretch of the walkway by the Bartolottas' house and the neighboring house. The association also hired Spencer Beers, a local contractor, who filled in some of the fallen boulders and preserved parts of the stone wall. The town has put up a barricade blocking off part of the yard from the damaged bluff, and the Bartolottas have taped off the area with caution tape, Pam Bartolotta said.
In the aftermath of the hurricane, the beach association must assess how to repair the damage and strengthen the bluff against further erosion. But since the walkway is not personal property, it will not qualify for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said association President Ed Lilienthal.
Bartolotta wants the walkway fixed quickly for safety reasons. She said she is worried that a child riding a bike potentially could not see the fenced-off area in time and might get hurt.
The beach association held an emergency meeting earlier this month to discuss recovery efforts for the Crescent Beach area and plans to prevent further erosion. The association is considering options for state funding and may apply for a federal small business loan, he said.
"It may just come down to the beach association coming up with money somehow," Lilienthal said.
Recently, the association benefited from an online fundraiser to restore the bluff, hosted by the Hartford Marathon Foundation. Donors - many of them athletes who have run on the bluff during the Niantic Bay Triathlon - raised about $2,500, according to Beth Shluger, the foundation's executive director.
The association wants to work with an engineer on erosion prevention. Over the past two summers, the association had installed a steel mesh protective track, which holds small stones in place, to stabilize the surface and prevent erosion, Terry Cohn, association vice president, said.
He said ensuring the damaged area is safe and stable was the association's first goal, and the board of governors will weigh options and research possibilities over the winter.
When the association moves forward with a plan, it will likely work with the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. DEEP had authorized emergency permits following Hurricane Sandy, but depending on Crescent Beach Association's proposal, it may need additional permits, DEEP analyst Michael Grzywinski said.
Cohn said the walkway has been there for more than 100 years, and this year's damage is the worst anyone has seen. But, he said, the association will find a way to repair the bluff.
"It's our iconic symbol," he said.