By Lauren Wanko
Construction equipment is in place. Excavation work is underway to rebuild Ocean Grove’s boardwalk.
“It’s really gonna put us in full throttle,” said an J.P. Gradone Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association member.
This Jersey Shore town’s unique. While it is part of Neptune Township, the land, including beaches and boardwalk, is actually owned by Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association — a religious non-profit. The association says FEMA viewed the boardwalk as private and recreational and twice denied the association’s request for financial aid to repair their damaged boardwalk. But the association finally persuaded FEMA that it is entitled to federal assistance.
“The issue basically was is that we’re a private non-profit and they viewed this as a recreational use,” said Grandone.
Camp Meeting Association members and Neptune Township officials traveled to Washington and lobbied FEMA. They successfully argued the boardwalk was more than recreational. Local officials say it is a crucial access point to the beachfront for emergency services.
“We had to, even though we weren’t a municipality, we had to let them understand we function very much like a municipality in the emergency services,” said Grandone.
Vacationer Marge Boyer is delighted. Soon she’ll able to walk on the boardwalk instead of the street.
“The senior citizens and all the people just wanted the boardwalk to be repaired,” said Boyer, of Clifton.
FEMA’s expected to cover 90 percent of the $2.6 million project. Sandy damaged about 60 percent of Ocean Grove’s boardwalk. The middle section will be repaired first.
A second phase of the boardwalk reconstruction is expected to start in the off season. That includes rebuilding Ocean Grove’s historic fishing pier, which was wiped out in the storm.
“It’s a part of the Jersey Shore. If you don’t have a boardwalk, you’ve lost some of the shore, so we’re glad it’s gonna be back,” said business owner Susan Schiava.
Business owners along Ocean Grove’s busy Main Street insist rebuilding the boardwalk is vital.
“So excited and relieved that we finally get the result we were looking for for so long,” said Norma Tolliver.
Ocean Grove Bakery Shoppe Manager Ava Okuniewicz says because of the damaged boardwalk, business took a big hit this summer.
“It took away probably 20 percent of business,” Okuniewicz said.
“Without that boardwalk I can tell you there were many people who didn’t come from out of state,” said Joe Parrillo.
The Majestic Hotel offers a view of the boardwalk from their deck, but this past summer there wasn’t much of a view. Still more guests are starting to check in now.
“It’s actually helped in the off season. People are coming to see how its obviously developing,” said Valerie Hegarty.
The first phase of the boardwalk reconstruction project is expected to be completed by mid-June.