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Tag Archives: Saugatuck Island
Alert “06880” reader, native Westporter — and active Saugatuck Island resident — William Adler writes:
In recent days, the Saugatuck Island bridge project has been given the final touches. Traffic is once again busy to and from this neighborhood on Westport’s westerly shores.
The Saugatuck Island Special Taxing District arranged for whitewashing of the bridge railings, and has restored landscaping that had been disrupted by heavy construction equipment.
The new bridge replaces a quaint timber structure of wooden pilings and rustic railings originally built in the 1920s.
The old bridge was well past its intended lifespan in 2012, when it suffered structural damage in Superstorm Sandy.
The total cost of $2.1 million includes a $1.3 million FEMA grant. The town and SISTD split the remainder 50-50. Construction began last year.
The new bridge retains the feel of its predecessor, while providing greater safety, practicality and rock-solid durability. The single span of concrete deck sits on steel girders, with an asphalt surface. It is secured on 50-foot deep sheet pile abutments clad in concrete.
96 feet long and 20 feet wide, the bridge can hold 20 tons – more than sufficient to accommodate heavy emergency equipment, unlike its wooden predecessor. The bridge’s anticipated life span is 75 years.
The bridge completion comes as Saugatuck Island has been experiencing a housing boom. During the past 5 years, about 1/3 of the approximately 100 properties on the island have changed hands. Prices range from $700,000 to $9.8 million.
Others have been expanded, elevated or otherwise enhanced. New construction has increased the number of larger, higher-end luxury residences.
In addition to 400 Westport residents, the island is home to Cedar Point Yacht Club, established in 1887, and the Saugatuck Shores Club (1946).
SISTD was established in 1984 to tax island property owners for local community costs — mainly road maintenance.
As for Saugatuck Island itself: Near the end of the 19th century, the Army Corps of Engineers cut a canal between what is now Canal Road and Spriteview Avenue, to provide a faster, safer route for onion farmers to transport their goods to Norwalk.
The newly formed island was called “Greater Marsh Shores at Saugatuck.”
Saugatuck Island resident Gene Borio sends along these photos of the approach to the newly renovated bridge on Harbor Road.
Inside the wooden bus stop, plaques honor Dean Powers and David Goldstick for their “skill and hard work beautifying our island.” An example of that beauty is found opposite the wooden structure.
Westport’s rock history includes some notable homes.
REO Speedwagon lived at 157 Riverside Avenue — and wrote a song about that now-demolished house.
Producer/musician Dan Hartman had a studio in an old sea captain’s home on Edgehill Road. He recorded Johnny and Edgar Winter there, and many others.
Now add another: Jeff Franzel’s house on Saugatuck Island.
It may soon be even more famous than the others. A couple of weekends ago, the beach house was filled with that music — plus pop, folk, country, reggae, even gospel.
None of the songs had ever been heard before. Hey — they’d only been written an hour or 2 earlier.
But some — or all — of them may one day top the charts.
Franzel’s Saugatuck Shores home (once owned by former 1st selectman Marty Hauhuth) was the site of America’s 1st-ever Songwriting Academy.
The brainchild of Martin Sutton — a British songwriter/producer who has worked with Backstreet Boys, LeAnn Rimes, Celine Dion, Olivia Newton-John, Lulu, Mike & The Mechanics and Idol winners worldwide — it’s a “boot camp” for musicians and lyricists looking to take their work to the next level.
In addition to songwriting, they learn about producing, publishing, marketing and contracts. It’s a collaborative but intense process — hence the nickname “songwriting boot camp.”
Sutton opened his academy in England a few years ago. Franzel — a Westport native who played piano for the Hues Corporation (“Rock the Boat”), Les Brown, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Mel Torme and Bob Hope, then wrote hits like “Don’t Rush Me” for Taylor Dayne, and others for the Temptations, NSYNC, Shawn Colvin, Josh Groban, Placido Domingo and Clay Aiken — partnered with Sutton to bring the academy to the US.
“We give them everything I wish I’d had when I started out as a busker,” Sutton says.
Which is how 15 already accomplished men and women, ages 20 through 68, came from across the country to Westport earlier this month. They spent Friday through Sunday learning about structure, form, hooks and arcs.
In the process, the group — some professional musicians, one an accountant, another a dentist; black, white and Hispanic — formed a tight, cohesive community.
From the moment they arrived, Franzel and Sutton coached them on how to create great songs. They teased out personal stories — the better to inspire their work. They critiqued them, pushed them, prodded them.
On Friday night, they shared music they’d already composed. On Saturday — just 24 hours later — they performed songs they’d written that day.
It was remarkable. The music was catchy. The lyrics were clever (one song was titled “Twice Upon a Time” — you won’t forget that). The performers were on fire.
Some had already achieved musical success. Michael Read has played with the Turtles, Mitch Ryder and Three Dog Night. Still, he says, “I want to get better. I start songs, but I don’t always finish them.”
Ykesha Milbourne belted out a spectacular gospel tune, “Can You See the Light in Me?” Sutton told her, ” I can see 50 women in robes holding candles swaying behind you.”
Before the song was finished, the other 14 academy students joined in the chorus. They’d never heard it before — but clearly, it was a song that could endure.
“We give you tools, not rules,” Sutton told the group. “This is like giving a sculptor the best hammer, chisel and marble. Then it’s up to him to put his imagination to work.”
The Songwriting Academy is expanding. There will be other locations in the US, and Europe.
But in the months and years ahead, when you hear a hit song, it might have been born by the beach on Saugatuck Island.
Which may or may not be a catchy enough line for a hook of its own.
No, not that one. The Cribari Bridge (aka Bridge Street Bridge) project is still a long way from resolution, let alone beginning.
But over on Saugatuck Shores, the Saugatuck Island bridge is getting a much-needed replacement.
Neighborhood resident Gene Borio sends along a couple of photos.
The new bridge will look like the old one, he says. It will retain its arch — vital for boat owners.
Power lines must come down while new pilings are put in. Meanwhile, Saugatuck Island residents will run off a giant generator.
The bridge is out until May (at least). Fortunately, there’s an alternate route onto the island: Canal Road.
Unless it’s flooded.
Alert — and very talented — “06880” photographer Betsy P. Kahn had a busy day today. She shot 3 fantastic waterside scenes: Saugatuck Island, Gray’s Creek and the Longshore marina.
The air was cold. The sun was setting. But Betsy nailed it! (Click on or hover over any photo to enlarge.)
Westport is beautiful on this mid-summer Friday — and no place is prettier than Saugatuck Island. Here’s a view of the canal, with the bridge in the distance.
The weekend forecast is partly cloudy tomorrow, plenty of gorgeous sunshine on Sunday. Enjoy!
A year ago tomorrow, Sandy tore through Westport with raging winds and historic seawater surges. William Adler, a Staples grad and longtime communications professional (UPI, The New York Times, Reader’s Digest), and his wife Olga had moved to Saugatuck Island 3 months earlier. Like many neighbors — and those on Compo Beach and Old Mill — their house was devastated. William wrote this piece, exclusively for “06880.”
On Monday, October 29, 2012 Storm Sandy tore through town, bringing raging winds and historic seawater surges. Across Westport, 243 homes were substantially damaged. Many were rendered uninhabitable, pending repairs.
Saugatuck Island sits at the mouth of the Saugatuck River. Its 100 or so houses range from 1950s ranches to oceanfront mansions. A giant wall of water gushed down the narrow streets, smashing through ground-floor windows and doors, depositing as much as 6 feet of water inside.
Two days later, many residents gingerly returned along Harbor Road on foot. The roadway had buckled as if in an earthquake. The only approach to the island was by cutting through yards.
Some houses were smashed or knocked off their foundations. Seawalls were toppled, their giant boulders tossed about like pebbles. The bridge onto the island was knocked off its moorings. Near the bridge, a sailboat had crashed through a living room window. Drowned rabbits were in driveways, and a dead shark sat on someone’s front stoop.
Once residents made it home, the sight was just as heartbreaking. Most houses that had not been built or converted to FEMA flood elevation standards sustained water damage. Sea water destroys just about anything it touches: kitchen cabinets and appliances, furniture, floor surfaces – you name it.
Seawater had mixed with septic systems and other toxic sources. And because water surged from all sides it swirled inside houses, causing a tornado-like effect that amplified damage. Many families turned around and headed back to hotels to regroup.
In the weeks that followed, residents took stock. They were thankful to be safe. Help arrived from the Red Cross, FEMA, the Small Business Administration and, especially, the Town of Westport, which counseled victims on the daunting task of filing claims and helped streamline the process of variances for repairs.
Along the way, something wonderful happened. Island residents returned to rebuild. They created informal networks to share information and moral support. A “stronger than the storm” determination spread widely. It appears not a single Saugatuck Island family has left specifically because of the storm ordeal.
“The support on the island has been overwhelming,” said Larysa Chernik, who with husband Ihor had just moved from Wilton when Sandy struck. “We are lucky to have our own network of insiders on the island who provide ideas on colors, designs, vendors and anything else. We are sharing and learning from one another. For weeks we commiserated together, shared helpers and names of service providers, not to mention the coffee and donuts. We all lost so very much.”
The cost of staying is steep. Damage to homes on the island is estimated at $2-4 million. At minimum, flooded households had to hire expensive industrial-strength cleaning. Many needed sheetrock removed, floors torn up.
Some residents elected to elevate – raising the foundation to meet FEMA storm requirements. As the house is lifted by jacks and gently placed on new, higher, moorings, substantial work must be done on every system in the house. The State of Connecticut estimates that such projects cost $10,000 per linear foot. That works out to $150,000 to $300,000 — or much higher.
Most of the cost is not reimbursed by flood insurance, which mainly covers damage to the original structure. The process can take up to a year.
“We are trying to build smart and safe, so we went high,” Larysa said.“When we are done, we will exceed current base flood elevation by 3 feet. We hope to be more energy efficient. We found an architect who shared our vision and helped us figure out how to put back together our simple home. Neighbors stood with us and cheered as the house went up, and later as it came back down on its new foundation.”
The town has been enormously supportive of flood victims, holding seminars on FEMA and elevation procedures and providing an information phone line staffed by Michele Onofrio at the Westport Fire Department.
By summer, things were looking up. The island’s association had completed repairs to the bridge, seawalls and roads. Amazingly, the main beach actually looked nicer, thanks to thousands of pounds of powdery sand deposited by the storm. Seawalls were bulldozed back into place, bigger and stronger.
Tony and Penny Sousa, longtime residents, organized a sprawling summer beach party for their neighbors that galvanized everyone’s determination to recover. Among those celebrating was Lisa Hartmann, another longtime resident, who said it is part of the character of people who live by the ocean to hang in through adversity.
“Most people who come to Saugatuck Island – either to live, vacation, join friends for a celebration or pass time — love it,” she said. “Many have been here a long time. They will say that living by the water is a kind of therapy. Life is a state of mind. Where else would they go?”
Lisa — a realtor — reports that in addition to all the houses that have been repaired, 7 new constructions are under way. Another is due to start shortly.
“It has been difficult for many people, but knowing that they have made it through is an accomplishment in itself,” Lisa said. “I believe every home was impacted financially in some way or another. You can replace things, but you cannot replace relationships that have been made because of Sandy. Our family is very happy in Saugatuck, and I just say be patient – all this will be a distant memory. The island is just getting better.”
The island association oversaw the cleanup and repair of the bridge and other infrastructure, which cost residents about $100,000. Carole Reichhelm, the association president and a resident for nearly 40 years, said the island is now better prepared to handle future storm emergencies.
“Our board came on strong and worked together quickly to get our cleanup under way. Although our bridge floated off its foundation we had it back in place in less than 2 weeks. We learned vital information about its structure and how we can protect ourselves better. Our experience with FEMA was very positive.”
Carole added that she can’t remember a time when community spirit was stronger. “In many ways, the storm brought our neighbors closer together – personally, I know more people on the island than I ever have before. We are a strong, vibrant, pretty old-fashioned neighborhood with kids on bikes, lemonade stands in summer, July 4th barbecues, paddle boarders, kayakers, sailors and a lot of people enjoying the spectacular views. If Sandy was our sacrifice for choosing to live in this place, I’d do it all over again without a second thought.”
Still, as Layrsa and Ihor prepare to finally move home, she said, “Living as a displaced person for a year is a humbling experience. You appreciate every act kindness, no matter how small. We are privileged to live in a unique community.
“The holiday caroling party has been organized, and discussions are under way for starting a movie club. The walks with our dogs continue. Everything has changed this year, except for the people we call friends and neighbors. We hope for many more safe and happy years.”
In the past year, the Adlers have elevated their home. Olga — an interior decorator — is in the process of creating “the ultimate beach house,” with energy-efficient features, solar power, a home automation system and car elevator.