LINCROFT, N.J. -- When it comes to destruction, disasters like Superstorm Sandy don’t discriminate: historic structures and environmentally sensitive areas that lie in the path of a storm are in just as much peril as less significant sites.
But when a historic structure or ecologically fragile area is damaged in a disaster, particular care must be taken to ensure that any repair or remediation that must take place is done in accordance with historic and environmental regulations.
To accomplish that, state, county and local officials in the impacted area are able to draw on the support of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Environmental and Historic Preservation Specialists.
The EHP cadre plays a critical role in helping municipalities and agencies understand the importance of compliance with environmental and cultural regulations so they may make informed planning decisions.
EHP provides expertise and technical assistance to FEMA staff, local, state and federal partners and applicants who are tasked with the challenge of preserving historic, cultural and natural aspects of our national heritage. They help applicants understand what is required under the law and how best to meet those requirements.
At Liberty State Park, which is adjacent to Jersey City, Sandy destroyed a popular pedestrian bridge that provided access to the park for walkers and cyclists in the Jersey City area.
With the help of specialists from FEMA’s Environmental and Historic Preservation program, city officials acted quickly to develop a plan for reconstructing the bridge, which had originally served as a rail bridge before its conversion for pedestrian use.
The city applied for a FEMA Public Assistance grant which, if the project was approved, would reimburse the city for most of the reconstruction costs.
Because the original bridge traversed environmentally sensitive wetlands, it was important that any new construction be environmentally acceptable and that it occupy the same footprint as the previous bridge.
The park, an oasis of green space adjacent to the bustle of Jersey City, offers recreational facilities, a science museum, and several historic sites including the historic Central Railroad of New Jersey terminal where new immigrants arriving from Ellis Island boarded the trains that would take them to new lives across America.
The park is also the site of a memorial honoring those who died in the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, titled Empty Sky. It is the most heavily visited park in the state.
Located just across the river from lower Manhattan, Liberty State Park also played a critical role following the attacks of 9/11 as a staging area for first responders.
With so many reasons for area residents to visit the park, restoring access via the pedestrian bridge was a priority for Jersey City officials.
The cost of replacing the 120-foot-long, 10-foot-wide bridge was estimated at $834,600. Jersey City’s Assistant City Engineer Jeff Reeves chose a pre-fabricated bridge that could be lifted onto the foundation via a crane. The pre-made span cost $160,000.
Restoring the foundation cost an additional $650,000, which included the demolition of the remnants of the original bridge and the installation of necessary components such as foundation “riprap.”
The final cost for reconstruction of the foundation and replacement of the pedestrian bridge came in under budget at $810,000. PA grants reimburse applicants for at least 75 percent of eligible work.
Because the total cost of disaster recovery in New Jersey exceeded a benchmark set by the federal government according to a specific formula, the federal share of the cost of the bridge replacement was increased to 90 percent with the remaining 10 percent borne by the applicant.
On June 20, 2013, then-Mayor Jerramiah T. Healy dedicated the new bridge, which has been officially named the “Ethel Pesin Liberty Footbridge” in memory of the woman who, with her husband, Morris,worked tirelessly to establish the park. A community leader and founding trustee of the Friends of Liberty State Park, Pesin died early in 2013.
“We know how important this piece of infrastructure is to our residents, and that is why we worked with NJOEM and our engineering staff to find a way to expedite the replacement of the Jersey Avenue footbridge,” the mayor said.
Today, walkers and cyclists are again able to enjoy the recreational facilities at Liberty State Park and visit the park’s historic sites via the Jersey Avenue bridge.
And because of the teamwork between state and local officials and FEMA’s EHP experts, the environmentally sensitive wetlands that surround the bridge have been protected.
Next, the One Year Later series concludes with a look at long-term recovery from Sandy.
Liberty State Park – A Gift Worth Saving
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