BELMAR, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — Governor Chris Christie was on hand Wednesday to help Belmar break ground on a new mile-long boardwalk to replace the walkway obliterated by Superstorm Sandy in October.

Construction of the new boardwalk kicked off in the morning and the town is pulling out all the stops to get the project done by Memorial Day, WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond reported.

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With the turn of a lever, Christie and the mayor of Belmar drove the first piling into the sand.

“Some people will say why should we do it? My answer is because this is the heartbeat of our state,” Gov. Christie told reporters, including CBS 2’s Christine Sloan.

The 1.3-mile boardwalk shattered by Superstorm Sandy will be built of composite, the pilings will be 25-feet deep and Belmar Mayor Matt Doherty said every board will be reinforced.

“We’re going to use hurricane straps at every crossing to insure that it would have survived a storm surge from something like Hurricane Sandy,” Doherty said. “It’ll be something that the residents of Belmar, the Jersey Shore and New Jersey will be proud of.”

Plans to use a more durable tropical rain forest wood were scrapped when environmentalists threatened a lawsuit.

“It would have tied us up for months and would have been detrimental to our community this coming summer,” Doherty said.

The boardwalk is the lifeblood of the town’s economy and the $6.6 million project is expected to be completed in time for the summer season.

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“We had to be aggressive about this because it’s part of the character of our town,” Doherty said. “All the businesses are small businesses so for them to go one summer without revenue would be devastating to their families and our economy.”

Residents said the groundbreaking gave them hope that life is slowly returning to normal.

“I was displaced and I have a good friend who is here with me now that put me up and I’ll be leaving today,” Belmar resident Barbara Luongo told CBS 2’s Sloan. “Coming back home.”

Piling for new Belmar boardwalk gets driven into the sand Jan. 9, 2013 (credit: CBS 2)

Piling for new Belmar boardwalk gets driven into the sand Jan. 9, 2013 (credit: CBS 2)

Business owners like Nick Fuccilli said the sounds of construction are welcome, in the hope the repairs will help make for a great summer season.

“It’s really the traffic situation. Ocean Avenue is completely closed, all the streets are barricaded,” he told Sloan.

Frank Sementa, owner of the iconic nightclub D’Jais, said he has confidence in the recovery.

“I imagine we’re going to be rocking and rolling here until opening day, which is May 1,” Sementa said. “I think by this summer, Belmar will be close to back to normal.”

Unlike other shore communities, Belmar is spending money even before New Jersey gets the disaster package it wants from Washington.

“Hopefully next Tuesday, Jan. 15, will be the day when we finally get that legislation passed,” Rep. Chris Smith said.

Towns like Belmar will be reimbursed for their costs if the federal aid package passes in Congress.

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