Mayor: Long Branch needs bluff before boards

Schneider estimates it will be 18 months before restoration work begins

Staff Writer

 Pilings are all that remains of the Long Branch boardwalk following the Oct. 29 superstorm.  KENNY WALTER Pilings are all that remains of the Long Branch boardwalk following the Oct. 29 superstorm. KENNY WALTER While some Shore towns are already rebuilding boardwalks, Long Branch officials say a replenishment project is needed before the boardwalk destroyed by Sandy can be restored.

Mayor Adam Schneider said in a Feb. 5 interview the city must first restore the sand bluff that was depleted during the Oct. 29 superstorm.

“Physically our ability to build exactly what was there has been severely compromised,” he said. “Our bluff has taken a severe hit and has to be restored.

“We need a plan that says, ‘Here is how the bluff gets restored and here is how you are going to build on it.’ ”

Schneider estimated that it would be about 18 months before construction could begin on a new boardwalk. If the bluff buffering the boardwalk from the elements isn’t restored, the boardwalk would have to be rebuilt 20 yards west of the present location.

Schneider explained some of the decisions that must be made before the boardwalk project gets underway.

“We have a lot of different issues that have to get resolved and they are really going to be one step at a time,” he said. “The bluff is the biggest one and what we are going to be allowed to build.

“Then it is what we want the boardwalk to look like and how we want it to be designed.”

Another step will be getting the Federal Emergency Management Authority (FEMA) to approve the design for the boardwalk.

The design, he stressed, must ensure the boardwalk would be able to withstand the impact of hurricanes.

“We want to be convinced that it is consistent with what we saw with Pier Village, in that it survived,” Schneider said. The sand bluff lies between Cottage Place and the city’s West End section.

“It did what it was supposed to do, it absorbed a pounding that night,” Schneider said. “If we got another storm next week with similar intensity, then we’d really start to get worried.”

He also said it would not be prudent to replace the boardwalk with exactly what was previously there.

“I don’t have a bluff to build a boardwalk on right now and we don’t want exactly what was there,” Schneider said. “There were plans that go back three or four years for a significantly bigger boardwalk.

“The last couple of years on a summer day you could barely walk on the boardwalk,” he added. “Rather than go back and build exactly what was there, which we decided was inadequate, let’s do it once and do it right.”

Several towns have already begun rebuilding projects for boardwalks including Belmar, Spring Lake and Sea Girt.

Schneider said the circumstances regarding some of the other Shore towns are different than in Long Branch.

“There are different facts for different towns,” he said. “[Belmar’s] boardwalk and oceanfront is their business district.

“They are very dependent on their summer business and they are building exactly what they had,” he added. “Our summer business district is not right there.”

With other towns preparing to have rebuilt boardwalks by summer Schneider predicted some may not be happy with the city’s decision to wait.

“If I built back what was there and it collapses during the next storm or it is undermined by the absence of a bluff and it falls on its own, then they are not going to be really happy either,” he said. “To build back exactly what was there and watch it get washed out in the next storm makes no sense.”

The boardwalk is a popular year-round recreation spot, and the site of the city’s Oceanfest July 4 celebration, which brings approximately 200,000 people to the city.

Schneider said despite the boardwalk not being ready by the summer, Oceanfest would go on without a hitch.

“Oceanfest is almost exclusively on the Promenade anyway,” he said. “We are going to be fine for that.”

Another issue pending for the city is the future of a $125 million oceanfront pier and ferry project that is set to include retail and restaurant space, as well as public space.

Schneider remains confident the city can build a pier that can withstand the storm surge of superstorm Sandy.

“The boardwalk in Pier Village survived and [the development] are built to the most recent building codes,” he added.

According to Schneider, initial reports indicate the pier would have survived Sandy, but the city’s professionals will soon confirm that.

“All the engineering reports we got would indicate that we could do this,” he said. “We still have work to do, we have to run the projections that we ran but the indication is that it would survive Sandy.”

Schneider said despite the storm the city has been working with the state on the lease for a planned ocean pier.

“We’re in the midst of dealing with the state,” he said. “Every structure that juts out like a pier into a riparian right is regulated and authorized by the state.

“There is actually a lease agreement between the former owner of the pier and the state that goes back literally 100 years,” he added. “Nobody picked up on this issue ever and we owned the pier for about 10 years.” Schneider said the city is hoping to come up with an agreement with the state that will detail the design and permitted uses for the pier.

“We began negotiations with them and there are other agreements between us and the state, so we said why don’t we wrap all this up in one agreement to permit what we want to put there,” he said.

“They thought that’s a pretty good idea, rather than have litigation or an ongoing fight,” he added. “I think we made progress on that and we are going to have to see what permits are needed.”

A fire destroyed the Long Branch pier in 1987 and since that time the city has acquired redevelopment rights and plans to rebuild the pier and other amenities, including a highspeed ferry terminal.