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New London - Cadets from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy can't use the iconic sailing center perched on a rock in the Thames River until this summer, at the earliest, because its utilities were destroyed during Superstorm Sandy.
Rear Adm. Sandra L. Stosz, the academy superintendent, told U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney Thursday that the Sailing and Seamanship Center, which is built on top of Jacob's Rock, is integral to the school's curriculum, and repairing it is a top priority.
The sailing season begins in mid-February, depending on the weather.
"We're a maritime service academy. It's what defines us," Stosz told the congressman. "And we're passionate about keeping this place prominent."
On Tuesday the House of Representatives will consider a $51 billion emergency relief package that includes about $270 million for damage the Coast Guard sustained during the October storm, of which about $18 million would go to the academy.
Courtney, D-2nd District, said he wanted to see the damage in person so he could explain it to his colleagues.
The sailing center flooded, submerging the electrical panels in the basement. Slate tiles flew off roofs in the high winds, and infrastructure along the waterfront was damaged by the waves and rising waters, including the pier leading to the sailing center and the academy's main pier. The sailing team uses the center, and all of the summer sailing programs and small-boat training takes place there.
Temporary trailers will be erected near the waterfront. The goal is for the center to be operational by July, when the new class begins the summer training program.
"Ninety percent of cadets are not sailors coming in," Allen L. Kruger II, the academy's waterfront director, said. "We do need to bring them up to speed quickly."
But the academy will have to wait to begin the major repairs until the federal funding becomes available, Cmdr. Andrew Clyburn, the academy's facilities engineer, said. The utilities will be moved out of the basement, and all of the repairs will be done so that the building will be more resilient in future storms, he said.
The Senate approved a $60.4 billion emergency relief package, but House Speaker John Boehner did not call a vote before the new Congress convened, sparking outrage among politicians of both parties throughout the Northeast. The House, which is now considering the aid in two parts, has approved $9.7 billion for flood insurance claims.
Courtney said support for passing the remainder of the package intact has grown. He was given a private tour of the academy's damages, but a reporter who learned of the visit was allowed to accompany him.
"Certainly visiting the academy is going to help me make the case to both supporters and critics that this is not a frill," he said afterward. "This is instrumental to educating the people that are going to protect the homeland."
Stosz also said it will be important to repair the main pier in the coming years because if the lease at Fort Trumbull for the Coast Guard barque Eagle was ever not renewed to make room for ferries or cruise ships, the Eagle would be homeless if it couldn't return to the academy pier. The pier, which was built in the 1930s, was damaged in the storm but had deteriorated over the years.
Clyburn said he does not yet know whether other ships visiting the academy will still be able to dock at that pier.