MANTOLOKING, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) – Nearly four months after superstorm Sandy decimated some Jersey Shore communities, residents of Mantoloking will finally be allowed to return home.
The barrier island town had been closed following the storm, but residents will be allowed back on Friday.
The wealthy Ocean County community is the last of the storm-battered shore towns to let its residents move back home.
It sustained some of the worst damage in the Oct. 29 storm. Hundreds of homes were destroyed and the ocean cut a channel through to Barnegat Bay, cutting the town in two. That channel has since been filled in.
“The town’s not very big, it’s 2.2 miles long. And we had the ocean basically wash over the entire length of town, from the ocean to the bay,” special council to the borough of Mantoloking Chris Nelson told WCBS 880. “With that washover, it took many, many of our homes with it. So it’s safe to say there’s not a home in town that was untouched by Hurricane Sandy.”
Despite the repopulation, officials don’t expect many residents to move in right away because so few homes are habitable yet.
Meantime, the town of Avon is facing difficulty rebuilding its boardwalk which was destroyed in Sandy.
Town officials have faced legal and environmental woes that have delayed boardwalk reconstruction.
The result is a race to the finish line that has borough officials and residents nervously counting the days until summer crowds once again flock to the shore, wondering if the small Jersey shore town will be ready. Avon awarded a contract for just under $1.5 million last week to rebuild the walkway; work could start next week.
“It’s disappointing,” said Danielle Magrini, an Avon resident out walking her dog on the beach because there was no boardwalk to stroll upon.
“I don’t think we’re going to be ready,” added her husband, Mike. “We’re already in mid-February. I just don’t see it happening.”
Mayor Robert Mahon is cautiously optimistic that despite the delays, Avon’s boardwalk will be ready by Memorial Day.
“The boardwalk will be there,” he said. “It’s going to be close.”
“With the storm, kids are going to be still in school probably until the end of June. We’re hoping to have the boardwalk completed by the end of April, first week in May so we will be ready for Memorial Day,” Avon-by-the-Sea borough administrator Timothy Gallagher told WCBS 880.
The trouble began in early January when Avon sought bids for the reconstruction of its 6/10-of a mile boardwalk, which, like many walkways in the region, was destroyed by the Oct. 29 storm.
After Avon awarded a contract for the work to one firm, a competitor took Avon to court, saying the bid process was flawed. After the town issued its specifications, several companies called to ask if they could use a different thickness of wood, a 1-inch board instead of the 7/8-of an inch called for in the specifications.
Avon issued a clarification saying either size was acceptable. Citing a technicality in the bidding process, one of the firms sued, and Avon decided to reject all the bids it received and start over. That cost it between two and three weeks.
Soon afterward, another controversy arose over the reconstruction of the Avon Pavilion, a boardwalk restaurant and retail shop that has been a fixture in town for decades. Citing damage from the storm, Avon officials voted to terminate the pavilion’s lease. Officials said they were obligated by state law to do so after a catastrophic storm.
The businessman who had leased the pavilion for the past 23 years – whose lease still had 13 years left on it – threatened to sue the borough, and residents rallied to his side. Finally, Avon relented and agreed to a shorter lease – 10 years – with the same operator.
But Avon’s boardwalk woes still weren’t over.
Its bid specifications called for Avon to use ipe, a type of tropical rain forest hardwood that’s popular for boardwalks because of its durability, but controversial because of the devastating effects that logging is having on Amazon rain forests. A dispute over use of ipe cost Ocean City, N.J., nearly $1 million in damages when it ordered, then canceled a shipment of ipe for its boardwalk in 2007.
Belmar had also planned to use ipe in its boardwalk reconstruction, but backed off after an environmental group, Friends Of The Rainforest, threatened a lawsuit. Environmentalists are also threatening to sue Avon to keep it from using the tropical wood, but so far have not acted.
“What they are doing in Avon is self-defeating,” said Georgina Shanley of Ocean City, an anti-ipe crusader who helped dissuade her own town from using it. “Using endangered rainforest for boardwalk exacerbates global warming thereby creating more intense storms and hurricanes so that more boardwalks are wiped out.”
Mahon defended the use of ipe in Avon’s new boardwalk, saying the wood performs well under heavy foot traffic. He also said the contractor has affirmed that the wood carries a certification from a joint industry-environmental association that it was harvested responsibly and in a sustainable manner.
That certification has split the environmental community in recent years. Some argue that the fact that loggers and lumber yards have agreed to consider the sustainability of the rain forests counts as progress. Others, however, say there is no such thing as sustainable logging from rain forests, and that wood from them should remain off-limits.
Mahon has his fingers crossed that the boardwalk will be ready for the summer crowds. The current construction schedule would have it done by mid-May, but bad weather or other unavoidable factors could cause further delays.
“Until it’s done, it’s going to be cause for concern,” he said. “The beach operation is a big part of our town.”
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