EATONTOWN, N.J. -- Hurricane Sandy struck a terrible blow to the Jersey Shore in 2012, Up and down the state’s 127 miles of coastline, boardwalks were driven off their foundations and transformed into piles of rubble. Planks and pavilions were washed out to sea. Bluffs and dunes were eroded. Stairways and benches were ripped off and carried away.
The cost of all that destruction rose into the hundred millions. But over the three years since the storm, most of New Jersey’s seaside towns have entirely rebuilt their boardwalks. In others, work is progressing on boardwalk and dune projects intended to build in resiliency and protect them from a future storm.
This is good news for the state of New Jersey, where tourism represents a key sector of the economy. As anyone who has tried to find a hotel room or a beach house rental at the Jersey Shore can attest, in a time when it’s possible to fly anywhere in the world on vacation, our state remains an enduringly popular destination.
According to a Tourism Economics report generated by VisitNJ.org, in 2014, the tourism industry accounted for nearly 10 percent of total employment in the state, generating more than $36.4 billion in revenues, an amount that represents 6.6 percent of the entire state economy.
Given those numbers, it’s easy to see why rebuilding the boardwalks was a priority for the state.
As a result of the Disaster Declaration issued by President Barack Obama on October 29, 2012, the state was eligible for Federal Disaster Assistance administered by FEMA’s Public Assistance program to assist in meeting the enormous costs involved in rebuilding and recovery in New Jersey.
And because of the catastrophic nature of the disaster, the state was eligible for reimbursement of 90 percent of the costs of public infrastructure projects under FEMA’s Public Assistance program.
As of October, 2015, the Federal Emergency Management Agency had obligated more than $115 million in Federal dollars for boardwalk and beach restoration and associated projects along the New Jersey shore.
Boardwalk reconstruction in most shore towns began just months after the storm, and many of the boardwalks were complete and open for the start of the summer tourism season in 2013.
Spring Lake used a composite material that is considered to be more durable than wood to rebuild its boardwalk. The borough significantly reduced the cost of the rebuilding project by using local labor and Force Account Labor (i.e. their own workforce) to do the work. The Federal share of the rebuilding project was $4.9 million, significantly reducing the financial impact of the reconstruction on Spring Lake property owners.
Sea Girt used recycled boards for a portion of its boardwalk repairs. Federal funds obligated for that project totaled $1,616,818.
Atlantic City repaired the damaged northern section of its boardwalk with “ipe” (pronounced ee-pay) wood, a Brazilian hardwood said to be as strong as steel. Atlantic City is also upgrading access ramps and adding more lighting along its boardwalk. The Federal share obligated for repairs to the boardwalk and outbuildings in Atlantic City totaled more than $10.5 million. Another $886 thousand in Federally obligated funds is pending.
By March 2015, Long Branch received $21.7 million from FEMA for the repair of a one-mile section of boardwalk and bluffs. The bluffs will serve as the support system for the boardwalk. The damaged boardwalk and infrastructure will be rebuilt with a new concrete foundation, 95,740 cubic yards of additional material, and 11,489 square yards of dune grass. The project is slated for completion in mid-2016.
Belmar reopened its historic, 1875 boardwalk in May 2013 after a $9.2 million reconstruction. The town is also investing in a $6 million dune building project that is intended to protect the boardwalk from future hurricanes.
In addition to their importance to the economy, boardwalks hold a magical place in the hearts of New Jerseyans young and old, famous and not so famous.
As Pulitzer Prize-winning New Jersey author Junot Diaz put it, “The boardwalk was where all of New Jersey came together, where New Jersey, for better or worse, met itself.”
Strolling the boardwalks, in every season, is one of the great pleasures of the Jersey Shore. Three years after Sandy, they are once again a part of the New Jersey landscape that belongs to each one of us.
For more information, please review the following video links: about the Belmar boardwalk: First Piling at //www.fema.gov/media-library/assets/videos/81896 and Belmar Boardwalk at //www.fema.gov/media-library/assets/videos/82596
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