December 10, 2012

N.Y., N.J. ponder new boardwalks without the boards

The destruction of Superstorm Sandy will likely result in some changes along the shoreline, with more wooden walkways giving way to concrete or synthetic materials.

Wayne Parry / The Associated Press

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Rubble sits where the boardwalk used to be in Seaside Heights, N.J. Seaside Heights, like many other coastal towns, is racing to rebuild its boardwalk from Superstorm Sandy's damage in time for next summer's tourism season.

The Associated Press

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Belmar, N.J., Mayor Matthew Doherty points to hurricane tie-down straps under the one tiny section of boardwalk in his community that survived Superstorm Sandy. The borough used the straps in an experimental section to see if it withstood storm damage better than normal boardwalk construction. Belmar is spending $20 million to rebuild its boardwalk, and will use the tie-down straps on the entire new project.

The Associated Press

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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.

"We've engaged a contractor to go in and begin repairing it and experiment with some techniques as they go along," said Ron Foley, Long Island regional director for the New York state parks. "The boardwalk damage at Jones Beach was different. The wave action at some places got underneath the boardwalk. They lifted it right up, including the pilings driven into the sand, gave it a roller coaster effect."

The destruction of late October's Superstorm Sandy will likely result in some changes along the shoreline, with more wooden walkways giving way to concrete or synthetic materials. "Under the Polymerwalk" might not have the same ring to it as The Drifters' 1960s hit "Under The Boardwalk," but in some places there will no longer be boards in the boardwalk.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has decided wooden boardwalks simply can't cut it anymore. City parks officials say concrete sections of boardwalk in Queens' Rockaways and Brooklyn's Coney Island held up much better in the storm. And the mayor has long wanted to move away from the tropical hardwoods, harvested from endangered rainforests, that were used to build many boardwalks.

That is an issue Tim Keating, director of Rainforest Relief, has been working on for years. He says coastal communities will be under pressure to quickly rebuild but urges them to resist the temptation to use tropical rainforest wood such as ipe, which is cheaper than synthetic materials and popular for its durability. Belmar is considering ipe for its boardwalk reconstruction.

Keating says durable synthetic materials are the best choice for boardwalks; Belmar, Spring Lake, Point Pleasant Beach and other places already used it.

Manasquan, N.J., for decades has paved its beachfront walkway with asphalt. Yet that, too, gets trashed by major storms. A 1992 nor'easter smashed large sections of it, and Sandy wrecked about half of it.

Wooden boardwalks have staunch defenders, who say nothing else looks, feels or even smells quite like a true wooden boardwalk. A group from Coney Island called Friends of the Boardwalk sued last year to block a New York City plan to replace wooden boardwalks with concrete and plastic.

Todd Dobrin, the group's leader, isn't convinced concrete will withstand a storm any better than wood.

"When hurricanes come through, they don't ask whether it's concrete or wood," he said. "They destroy whatever is in their path."

Doherty, the Belmar mayor, is confident his boardwalk will be replaced before Memorial Day brings its own set of worries.

"If we rebuild this boardwalk, we'll have plenty of tourists," he said. "And then people will be complaining about parking."

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