By Lauren Wanko
The iconic giant who once towered over tourists at the Jersey Shore now waits for Barnacle Bill’s arcade and mini golf to reopen in Ortley Beach. It’s one of many projects New Elevations Construction has underway.
“There’s 40,000 properties in 100 miles of the storm that really need our service. Most of our customers, they’ve been calling. My phone’s been ringing off the hook, please come help us,” said New Elevations owner Michael Sikorski.
Around the corner, homeowner Peg Gallagher is forced to rebuild. Three homes landed in her backyard.
“It’s depressing to be here. It was such a beautiful place and it’s totally depressing,” Gallagher said.
There are about 2,000 homes in Ortley Beach. Mayor Tom Kelaher says Sandy damaged every house here and at this point more than 100 homes need to be demolished.
“Our engineers refer to them as ‘Dorothy houses,’ like Dorothy in ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ where the tornadoes ripped the houses apart,” Kelaher said. “We’re working with FEMA right now to get permission to reimburse us for doing that.”
Mayor Kelaher expects demolition work to begin before the summer. On Ocean Avenue, the lifeguard headquarters is being rebuilt, along with sections of the boardwalk.
“We expect to have at least four or five blocks of boardwalk open by June,” Kelaher said.
And the beach should be open from Third to Fifth streets.
“We’re making a concerted effort to get the beaches open. It’s an important asset to the community,” Kelaher said.
Starlight Motel Manager Joseph Guarino couldn’t agree more. The motel is one of four businesses open in town.
“It’s just the perception of people that drive down here. They still drive down here after four months and they see a lot of homes still crushed and still in the same condition so their perception is we’re never gonna open,” Guarino said.
Across the street, Johnny Fries is open — flipping burgers and serving french fries to the lunch crowd.
“The contractors are here three out of five days of the week, so our business is doing quite well,” Johnny Fries co-owner John Spadavecchia said.
Others are still in the process of rebuilding, like The Beach Shoppe owner Frank Ingata.
“I am shooting for Memorial Day, but at this particular point all I want do is get done. If it’s Memorial Day, if it’s June 15, if I have to wait until Fourth of July weekend,” he said.
Ingata thinks Ortely Beach will be inundated with tourists this summer.
“They’ve heard about it for six months, how bad Ortley Beach was and now they want to see it for themselves so I think they’ll take a day trip,” Ingata said.
That’s something business owners in all the storm-ravaged towns along the shore are hoping for.