Long Branch bonds to fund boardwalk

Staff Writer

 City officials in Long Branch have introduced a bond ordinance that would include funds to repair the boardwalk, which was damaged during superstorm Sandy two years ago. City officials in Long Branch have introduced a bond ordinance that would include funds to repair the boardwalk, which was damaged during superstorm Sandy two years ago. Through two summer seasons, city officials in Long Branch faced criticism for not rebuilding the Sandy-damaged boardwalk. But officials insisted on waiting for federal funds for the project — and their patience paid off.

Last week, the City Council introduced a $30.4 million bond ordinance that would fund several projects including the boardwalk, the majority of which will be reimbursed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

The majority of the funding, $18.1 million, would be used for major repairs to the boardwalk including repairs to the protective bluff, roadway, comfort stations, steel bulkhead and promenade.

Another $11.5 million of the bond is slated for improvements to city parks, which include repairing and replacing synthetic fields, underground electricity for scoreboard and walkway lighting, a new irrigation system, various street improvements and boardwalk repairs, which include widening the boardwalk.

Business Administrator Howard Woolley Jr. said during the workshop meeting it is imperative that FEMA reimburse the city in a timely fashion for the work being funded by the bond.

“We are going to work on the reimbursement on a much more timely basis rather than an end-of-project settlement,” Woolley said.

Woolley said work on the boardwalk could begin next spring and a portion of the boardwalk would be ready for next summer’s beach season.

Other work includes $51,000 for improvements on Pullman Avenue; $37,000 for the demolition of the city’s recreation building on Bay Avenue; and $420,000 for a water filtration system at Manahassett Creek Park.

Also included in the bond is $250,600 to repair the Lake Takanasseee spillway damaged during the superstorm, which controls the flow of water from the lake into the Atlantic Ocean. According to Finance Director Ron Mehlhorn Sr., each project was previously approved by FEMA.

However, Mehlhorn said that, if the costs come in higher than the projections, it is likely FEMA would provide additional funding.

“If it comes in higher and they agree with why it is higher, they will fund 90 percent of that. In the perfect world, this is the way it works,” he said.

One of the issues other municipalities have run into with FEMA reimbursements is that the federal agency has not implemented a consistent or pronounced payment plan, he said.

“We don’t know [how the city will be reimbursed]. Some haven’t gotten a penny, others have gotten slightly above market value,” Mehlhorn said.

Because of the uncertainty, the city would likely only borrow a portion of the $30.4 million initially, he said.

“We just have to figure out how much we are going to borrow because we are not going to borrow $30 million,” Mehlhorn said.

Of the $30.4 million, the city’s share is $4.14 million, which includes a 10 percent match to FEMA funds and $1.2 million for projects not funded by FEMA, which includes rebuilding the boardwalk wider.

Mehlhorn said the city has a Nov. 12 meeting with the Local Finance Board in an effort to waive the down payment for the bond, which would be between $400,000 and $1.5 million.

According to Mehlhorn, once adopted, the bond ordinance would put the city’s debt at $108 million.

However, he said at least half of the debt figure represents bond ordinances adopted by the city but were scheduled to be paid off by outside entities, including various Green Acres grants that require bonding and a $25 million Redevelopment Area Bond slated to be paid off by the developer of Pier Village.

The Long Branch boardwalk was destroyed during the 2012 superstorm, with the exception of the Promenade adjacent to Pier Village.

Over the past two summers, the city has fenced off the missing portions of the boardwalk and constructed temporary beach access ways.