March 6, 2013 | by Michael K. Lavers
Fire Island continues post-Sandy recovery
Fire Island, Pavilion nightclub, gay news, Washington Blade

Crews continue to reconstruct the Pavilion nightclub in Fire Island Pines, N.Y., after a Nov. 2011 fire destroyed it. (Photo courtesy of FIP Ventures)

More than four months after Superstorm Sandy devastated the New York and New Jersey coastline, residents and business owners on Fire Island continue to prepare for the upcoming season.

Diane Romano, president of the Cherry Grove Community Association, told the Washington Blade on Tuesday the beachfront dunes that had been damaged during Sandy have begun to rebuild because of dune fencing the hamlet installed immediately after the storm.

The storm surge that reached nearly 14 feet in parts of New York City and Long Island flooded dozens of bay front homes, damaged a number of boardwalks and destroyed beach accesses. In spite of this damage, Romano stressed Cherry Grove weathered Sandy relatively well compared to other Fire Island communities.

“The people of Cherry Grove seem to be thankful and looking forward to a great season,” she said.

Jay Pagano, president of the Fire Island Pines Property Owners Association, said “necessary repairs” to the harbor are underway. He said the resort’s marina will be “up and running” by April 15, and debris removal will be completed by the end of this month.

Construction on the Pavilion, a nightclub that burned to the ground during a November 2011 fire that destroyed several other businesses in the Fire Island Pines commercial district, continues. It is slated to open later this spring in time to commemorate the gay resort’s 60th anniversary.

“The new Pines Pavilion complies to a heightened [Federal Emergency Management Agency] sea level, and none of the crucial elements of the building were touched by water,” Matthias Hollwich of Hollwich Kushner Architects, which designed the building, said. “Thankfully the foundations are deep and strong enough to easily withstand Sandy. The only challenge that we experienced was a delay in construction.”

The storm washed several oceanfront homes in Davis Park, a hamlet that is roughly two miles east of Fire Island Pines, out to sea. Dozens of others along the 34-mile long barrier island east of New York City also suffered damage.

The surge also caused numerous overwashes and at least three breaches — including one on the eastern end of Fire Island through which water continues to flow between the ocean and the Great South Bay.

The debris removal process had been delayed because of controversy over the bidding process through which the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers awarded the contract. The National Park Service’s announcement last month that it would begin to enforce a state law on some Fire Island beaches that bans public nudity, in part because Sandy destroyed the dunes that had obstructed nude sunbathers, sparked outrage among some. It does not, however, apply to Fire Island Pines or Cherry Grove.

‘We’re still kind of homeless’

Gay Staten Island residents with whom the Blade spoke roughly a month after Sandy made landfall continue to struggle to recover from the storm.

Up to six feet of water inundated Wayne Steinman and Sal Iacullo’s oceanfront townhouse on Father Capodanno Boulevard in the borough’s Midland Beach neighborhood during Sandy. The couple continues to live with Ianullo’s parents in Brooklyn as they try to repair their home.

Contractors have replaced the condominium’s back and side walls. A new furnace and hot water heater have been installed, but Steinman said he cannot begin the bulk of the needed structural repairs until he receives a payout from his insurance company.

“It’s really very, very frustrating,” Steinman said. “We’re still kind of homeless.”

Allison Galdorisi and Claire Watson fled their home in the Cedar Grove neighborhood of Staten Island during the height of the storm as several feet of water inundated the area.

Galdorisi told the Blade on Wednesday she and her wife “cleaned and dried the house out really quickly,” but the couple continues to rent an apartment in Midland Beach. The women are considering lifting their home to meet new FEMA flood standards, or even accepting a buyout that would take more than a year to complete.

“We’re just stuck,” Galdorisi said. “We’re pretty much out of shock and going into this new shock of not knowing what’s the best thing to do.”

Staten Island resident Michele Karlsberg, who is lesbian comedian Kate Clinton’s publicist, coordinated volunteer efforts in the borough in the weeks after Sandy.

She said her mother will move back into her apartment in the borough’s Ocean Breeze neighborhood that had eight feet of water inside it after the storm on March 15. Karlsberg added her sister has spent $30,000 so far to repair her home.

“The zone looks the same as if it was day one,” she said.

Sandy also inundated the Ali Forney Center’s drop-in center for homeless LGBT youth near the Hudson River in Manhattan’s West Chelsea neighborhood.

Gay MSNBC anchor Thomas Roberts and his husband, Patrick Abner, were among those who helped the organization raise funds to recoup some of their losses and to help pay for some of the renovations to a second drop-in center that opened in Harlem less than two months after the storm. The new facility does not yet have showers or medical facilities for the 60 young people who access it each day, but Ali Forney Center Executive Director Carl Siciliano stressed he feels his organization has recovered well from the storm.

“Because of that really strong support, we were able to pretty quickly get back on our feet,” he said.

Hurricane Sandy, Washington Blade, gay news

Superstorm Sandy’s surge destroyed homes along Cedar Grove Avenue in Staten Island, N.Y. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Michael K. Lavers has been a staff writer for the Washington Blade since May 2012. The passage of Maryland's same-sex marriage law, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the burgeoning LGBT rights movement in Latin America and the consecration of gay New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson are among the many stories he has covered since his career began in 2002. Follow Michael

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