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Repairing Isabel's damage

Hot weather did not deter more than 200 nationwide AmeriCorps/National Civilian Community Corps members and alumni from joining Havre de Grace residents yesterday to rebuild the city's promenade.

Yesterday's six-hour restoration project capped weeks of preparatory work. Yesterday's effort included placing the deckwork for more than 90 percent of the boardwalk, which was destroyed by Tropical Storm Isabel in September.

Workers spent the afternoon carrying stacks of lumber to other volunteers in charge of nailing down planks.

"Fifteen years ago, when we decided to build this," said Havre de Grace Mayor David R. Craig, "people asked, `Who's going to come down here?' Today's event just goes to show you how wrong they were."

Wal-Mart sales associate Byron Shores, 48, of Aberdeen volunteered, along with four of his co-workers. "AmeriCorps asked us if we would donate, but we decided to do more than that," he said. "We want to be a part of it."

Al Walker, 50, and Lewis Smith, 74, also felt compelled to rebuild their town's signature landmark. Smith's church met on the promenade every Thursday night, while Walker visited the boardwalk year round to watch the sunrise.

The promenade has sentimental significance for volunteers Tom and Winnie Carroll also. The newlyweds spent their courting days strolling down the boardwalk.

"We should do it for ourselves," Tom Carroll, 66, said of repairing the site. "AmeriCorps has been kind enough to volunteer."

Dozens of AmeriCorps/NCCC alumni also came from across the country to help with the rebuilding. According to its Web site, the NCCC is a national service program for women and men ages 18 to 24.

Sheryl Hammon, 35, of South Carolina attended yesterday's event with her mother, Jane Weatherford.

"I'm 60," Weatherford said, "but I'm here to work."

Hammon was part of the service team that helped build the promenade 10 years ago. "I was disappointed to hear what happened," she said, "but I'm excited to be back."

Kim McDonald, 27, of Oklahoma, worked in Havre de Grace three years ago as an NCCC member.

"It's neat to meet the people doing it now," she said.

Nearly 40 of the AmeriCorps/NCCC's current members spent the past two weeks preparing for yesterday's event by clearing leftover debris, stacking lumber and laying down the pilings for the promenade.

Nineteen-year-old Elise Hecht of Minnesota was excited to see the progress she and other members made during the past few weeks.

"It's a hard job to do. The lumber is heavy. The work is tiring," she said, "but it's been awesome to see how far we came."

Janessa Pierce, 22, of Illinois also enjoyed working on the promenade but found the work exhausting.

The hardest part, she said, was doing all the work from on top of the boardwalk "since it would have been unsafe to work with an electric wire close to the water, even though it might have been easier."

AmeriCorps/NCCC began planning the event six months ago and decided to gather for a major push on the restoration project yesterday in honor of the NCCC's 10-year anniversary.

Arthur Doty, public works director for Havre de Grace, said the Federal Emergency Management Agency authorized $408,000 for rebuilding the promenade after it was destroyed in the storm.

He estimated the cost of repairing the boardwalk at $500,000, but said the city would find a way to pay the balance, possibly through private donations and city funds.

Doty said the city would not know the final cost until the boardwalk is complete.

Monica Davis, spokeswoman for AmeriCorps/NCCC, said that although yesterday's event did not fully restore the promenade, AmeriCorps volunteers will continue working on the project.

"The passion for this won't end today," she said.

Bob Lee Geddes, director of the Harford County Parks and Recreation Department, said he expects the project to be finished within the next three months. "By Sept. 19, the anniversary of Isabel, it will be back," he said.
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