Michael Creaney was taking his daily bicycle ride through Long Beach when he cut a left near what used to be the seaside city’s iconic oceanfront boardwalk and pressed hard on the breaks, skidding to a stop.
The 58-year-old Long Beach native, who biked on the boardwalk for as long as he can remember, hopped off along Riverside Boulevard where crews were constructing a redesigned boardwalk after the previous one, built in 1907, was destroyed by Superstorm Sandy’s unrelenting storm surge seven months ago.
“I thanked these gentleman for rebuilding my boardwalk,” Creaney said, the buzzing of construction tools cutting through the air on an eerily quiet Thursday afternoon as crews bulldozed through areas where locals once gathered before spilling onto the beach.
The 2.2-mile-long wooden structure was completely demolished three months after Sandy and reconstruction efforts began four months after that. Crews are about two months into the rebuilding effort.
The city has made attempts to highlight the progression of its rebuilding efforts—first in January to memorialize the century-old boardwalk followed by an April pep rally to celebrate the first day of construction for the new wood structure rising from the sand. Both events attracted hundreds of locals, many lamenting the loss of their beloved boardwalk.
On April 4, the city agreed to a $44.2 million contract with Plainview-based Grace Industries, LLC to takeover the rebuilding effort. About 90 percent of the cost is to be paid for by federal funding, according to city officials. The remaining 10 percent is to be split roughly 50/50 between New York State and the city.
Long Beach’s agreement with Grace Industries stipulates that the project be completed within 210 days from the day that the first shovel hit the ground, and a $15,000 penalty for each day the company goes over that benchmark was included in the deal in an attempt to squash any thought of a delay. That would put the boardwalks grand opening sometime in November, but officials said the public will be allowed to access a half-mile stretch of the new boardwalk in July for bicycling, walking, and perusing the new structure.
But, only two months into the rebuilding effort, some residents are already questioning why the boardwalk hasn’t risen in time for the summer.
“Does anyone else think it’s annoying how the Jersey Shore is rebuilt but their just starting the boardwalk in Long Beach,” vented one Twitter user.
One resident at the June 4 city council meeting simply asked: “When is it going to open?”
City officials are asking for patience. A common refrain from Long Beach is the new boardwalk is being built “stronger, smarter and safer.”
But residents can’t help but compare the City by the Sea’s rebuilding effort to that of the Jersey Shore, which opened for business in time for Memorial Day. And, specifically, the 1.3-mile long boardwalk in Belmar, New Jersey, which cost $8 million and has already been completely rebuilt.
“I understand their concern but what the residents should know is that we surveyed the residents in Long Beach and 88 percent of the residents that we surveyed voted for a stronger and safer boardwalk and that’s what we’re doing,” City Councilwoman Eileen Goggin said in an interview along the construction site.
“We’re not just patching up the boardwalk that we had,” she added. “We’re using tropical wood, cement, which is what the residents voted for, so it’s a process. We’re building a boardwalk now that will last hopefully a hundred years. A stronger, safer boardwalk, and so it takes time.”
Mark Tannenbaum, executive vice president of the Long Beach Chamber of Commerce, understands why some residents have voiced concern about the project, but endorsed a new and improved boardwalk, which will be better for the city in the long run, rather than putting one together for the summer with “spit and gum,” he said.
“It won’t come down again,” Tannenbaum said of the redesigned boardwalk. “And if it does come down it will be at FEMA’s (Federal Emergency Management Agency) penny.”
The new boardwalk could also bring more opportunities for local businesses because residents have shown support for opening shops on the boardwalk, he said.
But city officials are focusing on their current challenges. The city has been touting the boardwalk’s durability under the new project, which includes mitigation designs to build a boardwalk that can withstand future storms. A concrete retaining wall on the south side of the boardwalk should serve as a barrier next time Mother Nature decides to unleash a storm similar to Sandy on LI.
“Waves will not be able to get through like the last storm and cause the destruction that [it] did,” Goggin said.
A new tropical hardwood decking, similar to those installed throughout the state and in New Jersey, will also help alleviate the problem of non-stop maintenance that occurred at the previous boardwalk, officials said.
The biggest change on the boardwalk itself, however, is a wood and concrete stretch from National Boulevard to Long Beach Road in the middle of the boardwalk where officials anticipate the heaviest amount of traffic will come from. Old fashioned lights will also sprout up along the boardwalk to create a “beautiful nostalgic feeling,” Goggin said.
“It’s unfortunate that it will be November,” she added, “but at the same time we’re building something that is going to last a long time so we can’t rush it.”
Creaney, the bicyclist, said he’s willing to wait, so long as the boardwalk is built as advertised.
“I wish it was there today,” he said, “but I want them to do it right and do it properly.”