By Lauren Wanko
The ground literally shook this morning in Seaside Heights as the first boardwalk piling was driven into the sand. Mayor Bill Akers is calling it a new beginning.
“This assures Seaside Heights the financial stability that we need. The boardwalk is our lifeline. You look at the way we balance our budget, it’s 70 percent on tourism, 30 percent on property taxes. You need to be financially stable at the end of the day when we’re all rebuilt that we can operate as a municipality,” Akers said.
“It’s oxygen. If you don’t have oxygen, you can’t breathe. It’s like on an airplane. You got a, problem you get your mask on first, this is the mask you gotta put on first. If we don’t have this up and running, Seaside’s not Seaside,” said Seaside Heights Police Chief Thomas Boyd.
Crowds cheered and bagpipers played as the community came together to honor this beach town’s road to recovery, the new boardwalk marking the first step.
“I think what we’ve tried to do is incorporate the charm into the Seaside boardwalk. We certainly are going back to wood, we’ll have the haring bone pattern — that’s the boardwalk we love — but we’ll also go with today’s standards. We’ll upgrade how we’re building it,” Akers said.
And for locals who lost everything in the storm, today is a crucial part of their healing process.
“To actually see — physically with my eyes — a piling going in and now a second piling going in, that the reality that there will actually be a boardwalk there to walk my grandchildren and to say to them, ‘Don’t be afraid. It’s going to come back. We’ll be OK,’” said Toms River resident Carol Davis.
“I like to think of it as the second Christmas because it is uplifting. When you see all the hard work and we’ve come to this point, a lot of anxiety, a lot of anticipation I can see what it means to everybody. You can see how important this first step is,” Akers said.
And it is just that — a first step. Crews will eventually construct a new 16-foot high seawall that will stretch the length of the boardwalk.
“We anticipate that that will protect what we’re doing now, not only the boardwalk and the businesses up here but also the residents that are rebuilding behind us so they can have some surety that they’ll be protected,” Akers said.
Over the next few months, contractors are expected to drive 2,000 pilings into the sand over the one-mile stretch of boardwalk. The $3.6 million project is expected to be completed by May 10.