Waterford - Gov. Dannel P. Malloy toured Camp Harkness beach on Tuesday to see how state and federal funds for Superstorm Sandy repairs had been spent.
"I think there were a lot of people who thought that we could not get this facility open in time for the season, and yet we got it done," Malloy said.
At a press conference Tuesday, Malloy said the Federal Emergency Management Agency contributed about $92,000 for debris clean up; removal, rebuilding and re-paving of a beach shelter; deck, cabin and fence repairs; and administrative expenses. But FEMA funds did not cover the full cost of repairs needed at the facility, which is designated for people with disabilities and their families. The state contributed roughly $28,000 for repairs.
Malloy said that in all, $370 million in federal disaster assistance has been approved for the state and that he would continue to fight for more funding.
While he toured the grounds, Malloy spoke with beachgoers, heard complaints from residents and posed for photographs.
Susan Metzler-Marusak, mother of an 8-year-old who has Down syndrome and autism, said she goes to the beach because it's free and it makes them feel at home.
"Everyone here at the beach is family. They have lived through what we live through daily," she said. "... It's relaxing. It's a way that we can run away from all the stress that goes with having a handicapped child and just relax and enjoy nature at its best."
State Sen. Andrea Stillman, D-Waterford, agreed: "It's wonderful that they get to enjoy a playground that is suitable for them, that they can access and the parents don't have to worry as much."
The beach playground is wheelchair-accessible and includes signs in Braille, a "super deck" so that someone in a wheelchair can access the beach, and a paved pavilion so that people in wheelchairs can move around easily. The atmosphere is inclusive - someone is not going to be offended if a child walks up to their blanket and takes something from it, Metzler-Marusak said.
The facility is considered "one-of-a-kind" in the country, said Dr. Terrence W. Macy, commissioner of the state's Department of Developmental Services.
"There are not a whole lot of places that build to accommodate folks who have some impairment or disability, nor are there places that are necessarily, particularly inviting to them, a group or audience of people or their families," Malloy said. "This is a very understanding facility."