Janet Babin, Economic Development Reporter, WNYC News
Janet Babin is a reporter at WNYC covering economic development.
Even after Sandy destroyed the boardwalk and flooded dozens of local businesses, the borough of Seaside Heights, NJ is determined to open its summer season by May 10.
The Borough is mulling over 16 bids that came in Friday from contractors eager to rebuild the 14-block boardwalk. The bids range from $3 million to about $8 million.
“That was encouraging, because we were thinking it would cost between $9 and 11 million to rebuild,” said Seaside Heights Mayor William Akers.
Watch: Rebuilding Seaside Heights
Unlike other New Jersey shore towns, a large portion of Seaside Heights revenue comes from business and tourism, as opposed to residential property taxes.
“In a situation like this, if you don’t open, you don’t take in revenue, so it’s imperative that we open, and that we open on time,” said Mayor Akers.
The borough had to take out a $14 million emergency appropriation loan to pay for the boardwalk and other essential repairs. The town hopes to recoup at least 75% of that amount.
“Projects have to be completed before [FEMA – the Federal Emergency Management Agency] get you your money,” added Akers.
Many neighboring shore towns, like Ortley Beach and Mantaloking, are desperate to build up their sand dunes to help prevent a new disaster from another storm. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is offering to assist many towns reconfigure their dunes, even offering federal funds to do it. But the Borough’s elected officials said that won’t work in Seaside Heights.
“When you balance the budget like we do, [dunes] would completely change the makeup of what we can do with our beaches, and we’d like to look at different solutions,” said Mayor Akers.
The borough is considering a sea wall instead. Not rebuilding is not an option, the mayor said.
“Are we supposed to just gather in the center of the country and that’s where we’ll all live?” Akers said.
The 4 pm curfew was recently relaxed to 10 pm, but still only about 10% of businesses are even open. Many businesses lost inventories to the storm surge. And employees left stranded without jobs moved on.
At Casino Pier, a ride, arcade, waterpark and food operation on the ocean, 22 of the 40 rides were destroyed. The Pier’s Star Jet Roller Coaster, reduced to twisted metal, half submerged in the sea, has become an enduring image of New Jersey’s plight after the storm.
“There’s a real big question mark on this summer,” said Lou Cirigliano, Director of Operations for the privately-owned Casino Pier. He hopes the tourists return, but he fears they might go someplace else this summer. The Pier will try to make it worth the visit with new attractions.
“The Pirate’s Hideaway [ride], that’ll be the one that stays, everything else has to be remodeled or destroyed and rebuilt.”
Still Casino Pier is committed to rebuilding for the short season that starts in May.
Since the Pier is privately owned, it would not be part of the sea wall that Seaside Heights officials are considering to help protect the borough from a new storm. But the Pier will add some form of protection from another storm surge.
“Plans are still in the early stages, but putting a bulkhead up, a cement bulkhead around, that will displace the energy from the waves,” said Cirigliano.
The amusement park said it is waiting on final reports from its engineers before moving forward with the cement bulkhead.
“This is the Jersey Shore - you have the beach, and you have amusement parks on the beach,” said Cirigliano.
"Maybe it would be nicer inland, but that's not Jersey, at least not to me."
Photos and video by Amy Pearl.