OCEAN CITY — The familiar beacon at the end of the north jetty at the Ocean City Inlet will be replaced with a more permanent structure starting next week.
The original beacon tower, roughly 20 feet tall, which for years alerted boat traffic to the presence of the rock jetty and the entrance to the Inlet, along with its somber alarm that could be heard from miles around on the clearest of nights, was swept away by Hurricane Irene in August 2011 and was never seen again. When the height of the storm subsided, all that was left of the beacon was a rusty stub bolted to the giant rocks at the end of the jetty.
The Coast Guard beacon was one of over 500 aids to navigation destroyed during Hurricane Irene in the mid-Atlantic area alone and certainly the most conspicuous. In the wake of the storm, the Coast Guard discovered the tower had been swept away and a search for the 20-foot, 3,500 pound beacon was undertaken in the waters in and around the Inlet to no avail. In late 2011, sonar pings picked up by a search vessel appeared to indicate the massive structure was still on the sea floor just north and east of the Inlet jetty and a recovery operation was undertaken, but the apparent beacon on the bottom turned out to be a false alarm and the original tower was never found.
Crews from the Coast Guard Aids to Navigation (ANT) teams in Chincoteague and Elizabeth City, N.C. built a new tower for the end of the north jetty at the Inlet in Ocean City and shipped it to the Ocean City Municipal Airport in January 2012. About two weeks after its arrival, the new tower was hoisted by a Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter and carried across Assateague and the open ocean before being delivered to waiting crews at the end of the rock jetty.
Crowds gathered at the Inlet to watch the spectacle as the 20-foot tower was carried by helicopter across the open water. After a few minutes of careful maneuvering, the tower was successfully lowered onto the rocks and bolted into place while the ocean spray generated by the helicopter swirled.
That tower has stood in place since, but was only a temporary solution. The permanent jetty beacon will be delivered to the Inlet early next week and will be installed by private contractors with a project expected to take about two weeks. However, the delivery and installation of the new tower will not be nearly as dramatic as the last, according to Coast Guard Petty Officer and Officer in Charge of ANT in Chincoteague Aric Deuel.
“We’re not bringing this one in by helicopter,” he said this week. “They’re going to move the temporary tower out there now closer to the end of the jetty and it will remain there during the project, which is expected to take about two weeks. Then they’re going to erect the new tower in the same spot as the original tower and the temporary one will be removed.”
Deuel said the new tower will have roughly the same specifications as the temporary tower including a height of around 20 feet and about 3,500 pounds. It will hold similar equipment including the light and the familiar sound beacon along with some new, more technologically advanced aids to navigation.
The new tower will also have a more stable concrete base and the hope is it will be better suited to sustain strong storms, high winds and large waves. The project is scheduled to begin on Monday and will take an estimated two weeks.