Last year, the thwack of hammers and the whine of power saws were as ubiquitous at the Jersey shore as the screech of seagulls, as town after town raced to rebuild boardwalks that were wrecked by Superstorm Sandy.
Now, with the second summer following the storm approaching, the final few wooden walkways are being repaired.
The most prominent is in the Ocean Grove section of Neptune Township, N.J., where a privately run religious association that owns the walkway got turned down twice by the Federal Emergency Management Agency for repair money before prevailing on the third try.
“The challenge in their mind was they were seeing it primarily as a recreational facility,” said J.P. Gradone, executive director of the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association. “We were able to explain to them that it’s important for emergency services, which use the boardwalk, as well as being a thoroughfare between towns.”
Ocean Grove eventually got $2.36 million for its boardwalk, part of which is being rebuilt now and part of which will wait until the fall.
Long Branch, whose main oceanfront walkway is an elevated stone structure called the Promenade, still has a milelong section of wooden boardwalk that was damaged by Sandy and needs to be rebuilt, along with the earthen bluff that supports it. The city received the $14.5 million in funding in January but has yet to agree on a design acceptable to FEMA, meaning the work won’t start until fall.
“I’ve got angry people because there’s no boardwalk there this summer,” Mayor Adam Schneider said. “I was hoping we’d be farther along than we are now, and people are frustrated that it’s taking this long.”
The plan under consideration calls for moving the boardwalk back from the edge of the now-eroded cliff it once sat on, shoring up the bluff and protecting it with some sort of rock or steel wall at its base.
Other shore towns, including Point Pleasant Beach and Ocean City, are phasing in replacements of large sections of the boardwalks over several years, part of ongoing maintenance and improvement. Storm damage already has been repaired.
Seaside Park is racing to have its boardwalk rebuilt by July 4, following a roaring fire that destroyed it last September.
Founded as a Methodist seaside religious retreat just south of Asbury Park, Ocean Grove is listed on the National Register of Historic Places for its widespread Victorian architecture. Centered on a church called the Great Auditorium, it has a population of about 3,300 year-round residents that grows each summer when founding family descendants rent 114 tents on wooden platforms near the auditorium to be close to its religious services. The place that calls itself “God’s square mile at the Jersey shore” keeps its beach closed on Sundays until after noon.
Its pier also was damaged in the storm, and FEMA denied reimbursement for that as well. Gradone says the association is appealing that decision, too.
The current phase of boardwalk repair is expected to be completed by the end of the month. It will eliminate the need for people to walk in the street on a narrow, traffic-filled road.
The rebuilding also lets Ocean Grove better protect its walkway by moving it 30 feet inland behind an existing steel bulkhead that should help protect its foundation against future storms. The old boardwalk was between the steel wall and the ocean, taking the brunt of the waves.
The project also will restore some of the sense of normalcy that residents of Ocean Grove crave.
“It will mean a lot for our town,” said Mary Martin, who has lived here since 1960. “We’ll all be very thankful when this is done because we really need it.”