Coast Guard restores navigational aids following Hurricane Sandy

Story and photos by Chief Warrant Officer Christopher Runt

With 90-mph winds spanning 820 miles in diameter, Hurricane Sandy caused 125 deaths and $62 billion in damages, becoming the second-costliest storm in U.S. history. As the winds subsided, Coast Guard personnel all along the Atlantic Coast went into action.

Coast Guard men and women prioritized their efforts and began search and rescue missions to find individuals and communities in need.  Sector Delaware Bay’s personnel began assessment and recovery operations to restore safe navigation in the coasts and waterways of New Jersey and Delaware.

The assessment teams discovered the hardest hit areas were along the coastline near Atlantic City, N.J.  The storm surge had damaged and destroyed many of the waterway’s aids to navigation, including floating buoys and fixed structures.   Coupled with storm debris washing into the local waterways, deliveries of needed aid and supplies to New Jersey coast residents were hampered.

Personnel from the Coast Guard, Army Corps of Engineers and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration began the process of identifying the hazards.  They also conducted channel soundings to confirm water depth and started removing the debris caused by the storm.

Within Sector Delaware Bay’s area of responsibility, the navigational towers in New Jersey marking the river entrances to Cape May, Barnegat Light, and Shark River, had been destroyed.  The responsibility for replacing the aids fell onto the Coast Guard’s Aids to Navigation Team Cape May.  Working with Sector Delaware Bay, the Coast Guard’s Civil Engineering Unit in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Fifth Coast Guard District in Portsmouth, Va., the ANT was able to secure funding and materials to replace the lost towers.

The placement of the two, 25-foot tall, 2,540 lbs, towers proved challenging for ANT Cape May.  Arrangements were made with Coast Guard Air Station Elizabeth City, N.C. to provide an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter and crew.  The Jayhawk’s crew would fly to nearby staging grounds before airlifting and transporting the structures to their new locations. 

The first tower was shipped to Monmouth Executive Airport in Wall Township, N.J., Nov. 28, just 31-days following superstorm Sandy’s landfall.  The aircrew rigged the hoisting strap to their helicopter, hoisted the tower, and flew to the Shark River Inlet jetty, where the original tower had been destroyed.   The helicopter hovered over the concrete structure used as the tower’s base, descending until the feet of the tower came into contact with the concrete.  The ANT Cape May crew approached the tower to ensure it was oriented correctly with the channel before giving the signal to the helicopter crew to drop the strap.  The team secured the tower and then installed the lighting equipment, solar panels and batteries which insured the towers functionality.

Seven days following the installation of the Shark River tower, ANT Cape May personnel prepared to replace the destroyed Barnegat Light tower.  The tower had been delivered to Coast Guard Air Station Atlantic City in preparation.   Again, a Jayhawk and crew flew up from Elizabeth City to hoist the tower.  With waves crashing on nearby rocks, the aircrew of the Jayhawk set the tower in place on the concrete structure and the ANT moved in, secured the tower,  and installed the lighting equipment and a six-foot tall day marker.

Throughout Sector Delaware Bay’s area of operation, 49 discrepancies were reported as a result of superstorm Sandy.  Rebuilding the Shark River and Barnegat Light towers corrected 46 of the total discrepancies. 

Through coordination, cooperation and teamwork it was possible for the Aids to Navigation Team to meet their goals on the ongoing task of restoring the coasts and waterways of New Jersey and Delaware to their normal conditions.