Whatever communities decide, they need to do it soon. For many shore towns, boardwalks are their summertime economic engine, where tourists and residents alike spend their money on food and drinks, or on games of skee ball or balloon darts to win a stuffed animal.
In these towns, even in the many non-commercial sections where boardwalks are merely a non-sandy way to get from here to there, not having one is not an option. They will need the tourism money this summer more than ever as they try to rebuild homes and other infrastructure.
The destruction in Seaside Heights has become emblematic of the storm because of a roller coaster that plunged into the ocean. Mayor Bill Akers said 75 percent of his town’s budget comes from tourism, with the remaining 25 percent raised from local taxpayers.
“You can see how important it is for us to get the boardwalk back up and running, and to make sure we have a summer season,” he said. “It’s something we have to get done.”
Seaside Heights, like several other Jersey shore towns, is soliciting bids to rebuild its boardwalk; Akers estimated it will take $10 million to $12 million. The Federal Emergency Management Agency will reimburse towns for 75 percent of those costs, but local governments first must front all the money themselves, forcing many to borrow in the short or long term.
Terri Bissell moved to Seaside Heights 15 years ago after visiting it each summer for decades. Her parents started vacationing there 70 years ago.
“It was like heaven, coming down here to the boardwalk,” she said. “It was our own little piece of heaven; that’s why we bought here. The kids are so happy when they’re on that boardwalk. Parents are always dying to bring their kids someplace to keep them busy; the Seaside Heights boardwalk has always been that place.”
To the north, Belmar has approved the largest boardwalk rebuilding project so far in the aftermath of the storm, committing $20 million to rebuild its 1.3-mile boardwalk and haul away the remnants of the old one. It is also considering erecting a steel sea wall to be buried under sand dunes to help protect the boardwalk and homes and businesses.
“The beach and the boardwalk go together,” said Mayor Matthew Doherty. “It’s who we are; it’s part of our identity.” Yet identity only goes so far in shore towns’ calculus. Money is a bigger factor.
“If there’s no boardwalk, people aren’t going to come this summer,” Doherty said. “They’ll go somewhere else, and if they like it there, they won’t be back here. We want to be the first in the race to get things started for the summer.”
A 20-foot chunk of boardwalk is all that remains in Belmar, for one reason. It was an experimental section, bolted to underpinnings with the same hurricane tie-down straps that many home builders use to bind homes to their foundations. The entire new Belmar boardwalk will be built this way, Doherty said.
Other Jersey shore towns including Sea Girt, Asbury Park and Point Pleasant Beach are moving forward with boardwalk rebuilding plans; Spring Lake has to rebuild its boardwalk little more than a year after Tropical Storm Irene wrecked half the old one. New York state parks, including the popular Jones Beach, also are starting to rebuild.
Doherty, the Belmar mayor, is confident his boardwalk will be replaced before Memorial Day brings its own set of worries.<< previous 1 2