Irene the latest chapter in East Lyme boardwalk's sad story

East Lyme - The serene scenes offered during a walk along the Niantic Bay boardwalk may be rivaled only by its tumultuous history.

Portions of the six-year-old, 1.1-mile walkway linking Cini Park to Hole in the Wall Beach have been built, then torn down. The walk is now being rebuilt.

A nor'easter wreaked havoc, which led to lawsuits, court dates and a settlement.

Earlier this year, there was vandalism, followed by outrage.

Then, last month, Tropical Storm Irene paid a visit, and storm surges swept away the gravel portion of the walkway.

And now, the boardwalk is closed for the foreseeable future. First Selectman Paul Formica said Thursday that the town closed the boardwalk just after the storm ended. Not only did Irene wash away the gravel, it also toppled some of the concrete seawall.

Formica said the town will include the damaged portions of the walkway on its list of affected property to the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency.

"We just started the process with FEMA," Formica said.

Robert De Santo, president of the East Lyme Public Trust Foundation - the group that raised funds for the walkway - said the gravel part was supposed to withstand a 25-year storm.

"It was inadequate," De Santo said.

De Santo said the eastern part of the boardwalk, which Amtrak is replacing as part of its Niantic River Railroad Bridge construction project, was not harmed during the storm.

That section of the boardwalk, which was originally made of wood planks, will be made out of concrete and is expected to open by 2013. Work crews are also building a decorative wall that will serve as a barrier between the boardwalk and the railroad tracks.

Before Tropical Storm Irene hit, crews removed the roughly 100 commemorative benches placed along the walkway by the East Lyme Public Trust Foundation.

The benches are now piled next to the bathhouse.

In April, an Old Lyme man was arrested for spraying graffiti on the benches, many of them commemorating deceased residents.

In December 2006, a nor'easter damaged portions of the boardwalk, which led to the town filing lawsuits against the several firms involved in its construction because of design flaws. In 2010, the town reached a $1.6 million settlement with the firms.

Formica said the money is in a special account and he has held "preliminary discussions" with Cianbro, the firm which is building the eastern end of the boardwalk, about the western part.


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