OCEAN CITY — Perhaps one of the most visual reminders of Ocean City’s brush with Hurricane Irene last weekend is the absence of the U.S. Coast Guard beacon at the end of the north jetty at the Inlet.
Town crews worked all week removing piles of sand from the Inlet lot and the Boardwalk, but missing from the downtown landscape was the omnipresent beacon at the Inlet. The familiar beacon, which for years alerted boat traffic to the presence of the rock jetty and the entrance to the Inlet, along with its somber alarm signal that could be heard from miles around, was swept away during Irene last weekend.
In its place is a rusty stub bolted to the giant rocks at the end of the jetty. When the storm subsided and the clean-up began early Sunday morning, the Coast Guard beacon was conspicuously absent from its normal position has hasn’t been seen, or heard, since.
“It has not been recovered and there is really no way of telling where it might have ended up,” said Coast Guard Ocean City Petty Officer Steve Atkinson this week. “For all we know, it could be 10 feet under the water or two miles out to sea.”
While the fate of the former sentinel at the entrance to the Inlet is unknown, so to is its future. Atkinson said this week Coast Guard Sector Hampton Roads, which governs the mid-Atlantic region, was in the process of evaluating what was lost during the storm, what can be repaired and what will have to be replaced.
“As you can imagine, there were similar losses all up and down the mid-Atlantic coast and it will take some time to figure out what needs to be repaired and replaced,” he said. “Already, there have been some repairs and restorations done in our area including some day buoys down in Sinepuxent Bay.”
Atkinson said the beacon will likely become a top priority for the Coast Guard after its evaluations of the storm damage along the coast because of its importance to mariner safety.
“The No. 1 thing it does is provide a visual aid for boat traffic accessing the Inlet and avoiding the rocks of the jetty,” he said. “In times of fog or bad weather, the loud, audio alarm serves the same purpose.”
Atkinson said it was uncertain when the beacon would be replaced, although he said it was likely given its importance to navigation safety. He said the new beacon would likely be an improvement over the old one.
“I assume it will be upgraded if and when it’s replaced,” he said. “The old one was showing its age and might have needed replacing soon anyway.”