Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christie celebrates Shore's progress

He hailed the reconstruction of the Ocean Grove boardwalk as "a cap on another stage . . . of our recovery" from Hurricane Sandy.

Gov. Christie greets Aidan Walbow, 4, of Fort Lee, who walked the Point Pleasant boardwalk Thursday dressed in his Superman costume.
Gov. Christie greets Aidan Walbow, 4, of Fort Lee, who walked the Point Pleasant boardwalk Thursday dressed in his Superman costume. MEL EVANS / AP
Gov. Christie greets Aidan Walbow, 4, of Fort Lee, who walked the Point Pleasant boardwalk Thursday dressed in his Superman costume. Gallery: Christie celebrates Shore's progress
OCEAN GROVE, N.J. - With the ceremonial reopening of the Ocean Grove boardwalk Thursday, most of the Jersey Shore's boardwalks are back in business following Hurricane Sandy.

The walkway in the section of Neptune Township was the final major project to rebuild a boardwalk damaged by the storm, but it was not the last.

Part of Long Branch's storm-wrecked boardwalk won't be repaired until this fall. And the Seaside Park boardwalk, destroyed by a spectacular fire last September, is just about finished and will be connected to the walkway in neighboring Seaside Heights by this weekend.

Gov. Christie chose the Ocean Grove boardwalk - which will have one last section rebuilt in the fall - to begin the July Fourth weekend and take stock of the Shore's recovery from the October 2012 storm.

He said the reconstruction of the walkway represents "a cap on another stage - not the completion - of our recovery from Hurricane Sandy. If you look at where we are today in New Jersey compared to the way we felt on Oct. 29, 2012, we have all done an excellent job."

Dale Whilden, president of the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association, which owns the walkway and the land in Ocean Grove, had been counting the days to recovery.

"It was 613 days ago that Hurricane Sandy destroyed and wreaked such havoc at the Jersey Shore," he said. "It has been a long road."

The association, a religious group, was turned down twice by the Federal Emergency Management Agency for repair money before prevailing on its third try. Ocean Grove eventually got $2.36 million for its boardwalk.

Long Branch, whose main oceanfront walkway is an elevated stone structure called the Promenade, still has a mile-long section of wooden boardwalk that 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.

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 a rock or steel wall at its base.

Founded as a Methodist seaside retreat, Ocean Grove, which adjoins Asbury Park to the south, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places for its Victorian architecture. Centered on the Great Auditorium, it has a population of about 3,300 that grows each summer when families 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. The association is appealing that decision, too.

Wayne Parry Associated Press
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