By John Burton
Despite Super Storm Sandy’s best efforts, area beaches – in some form or another – will be back for use this summer by those looking for sun, sand and surf.
Representatives Monmouth County beach towns are optimistic about the coming summer. Some are voicing full-throated endorsements for their communities’ ability to serve the summer visitors in Sandy’s aftermath; others are a little more reserved, acknowledging the damage from the storm will result in a summer season with some limitations and – in many cases – the need for portable toilets.
Starting at the northern end of the oceanfront, both Gateway National Recreation Area and Sea Bright received a pummeling from the late October storm, with Sea Bright especially hard-hit.
National Park Service representatives, who oversee Sandy Hook, have said the park will have three beach areas open for bathing and with lifeguards on duty by the Memorial Day weekend. For those looking to visit the park, however, they should expect to find portable restroom facilities and temporary concession stands. The park, including Fort Hancock, the historic former Army installation, is now open to the public.
Sea Bright officials have been working feverishly to restore the community, so hard-hit by the storm, and restore its public beach area, an important resource for the small community.
“It’s been a nightmare, to be perfectly honest with you,” said Sea Bright Borough Councilman C. Read Murphy, who chairs the council’s beach committee, speaking of the last six months.
Workers have sifted through and cleaned the 70,000 cubic yards of sand that was piled in the center of the downtown area. The sand, that residents has taken to calling Mt. Sandy, has been returned to the beachfront, Murphy said.
Like Sandy Hook, visitors will have to use portable restroom facilities, including ones that are handicap accessible. They will be available by Memorial Day weekend, Murphy said.
“A lot of our hamburger joints, ice cream store and beach places will be back,” Murphy promised.
Beach badge sales, however, have been off by a considerable number, he acknowledged. During the last few years, the borough has been selling season badges earlier, offering a reduced preseason price of $50, down from the usual $100 for the season. Last year, about 1,800 were sold; this year, the number is about 600, he said.
“It’s a nice family beach and people have always been happy here,” he said. “Once people start coming down and seeing that it’s still a nice beach, they’ll continue to come.”
In past summers when Sandy Hook fills to capacity, overflow visitors tend to make their way to Sea Bright. Murphy expects that to be especially true this summer given Sandy Hook’s limitations. “It better be,” he said. “I’m counting on it.”
The restoration of Monmouth Beach’s bathing pavilion –which was significantly damaged when Sandy’s tidal surge picked up the deck and slammed it into the building – and other beach-area work has cost about $2 million so far, according to Mayor Susan Howard.
“From the beginning our plan was to get it done,” in time for summer and everything is on schedule, Howard said. Like other areas, it appears beachgoers are going to have to use temporary facilities, here, too, at least initially.
The work is continuing on the pavilion, which will accommodate season members for the approximately 200 yards of lifeguard-protected beach area, and access points to the borough’s 1.2-mile oceanfront. Workers continue to sift sand and do general work to get the beach in shape.
Reservations for the pavilion lockers are running even, compared to last year, as are seasonal beach badges, which go for $75, about a third of which are purchased by residents, Howard said.
Monmouth Beach has scheduled a grand opening celebration for the bathing pavilion on Thursday, May 23. The event will serve as a kickoff for the season and offer something of an emotional lift for area residents, the mayor said.
“It may not be 100 percent perfect, but I don’t think anyone will complain,” she said.
Asbury Park city manager Terence Reidy called the city “extremely, extremely lucky” with Sandy. “The beachfront was hit but not devastated.”
Asbury’s iconic boardwalk did take a significant hit, with businesses damaged and closed for a time. But no homes were damaged and there were no injuries, Reidy said.
The city council had pledged to be on track by the May. “We made that declaration, that was our goal, two weeks after Sandy,” he said, noting it is going to happen.
The boardwalk is costing about $2 million to repair. “A lot of work went into it, obviously,” Reidy said. “The boardwalk is done for the summer,” he said, noting some small, additional work is needed, but it can wait until after Labor Day.
Public facilities will be available and all businesses are expected to be operating. “We lost some of the beach,” through storm erosion “but nothing crazy,” he said.
Seasonal beach badges will cost $70 for adults and $20 for seniors and teenagers, ages 13-17. Daily passes will be $5.
In preparation for summer city officials have scheduled a May 18 boardwalk grand opening, which will include a free one-day beach pass for the first 1,000 who arrive that day.
“It’s time to enjoy the summer,” Reidy said.
After seeing pictures of Belmar’s oceanfront and ravished boardwalk immediately after the storm, it seemed a tall order to have it ready for summer. “We are more than ready,” said borough administrator Colleen Connolly.
The boardwalk along the borough’s 1.2 miles of beach cost approximately $10 million to reconstruct. As of April 26 the work was “substantially completed. “Everything will be back on line when we cut the ribbon,” for its formal grand opening with Gov. Chris Christie on May 22, Connolly said.
“It was an overwhelming amount of work,” but the governing body was “extremely aggressive” in moving forward with the work, she said.
There will be trailers with concessions, “so it’ll still be the Belmar experience,” Connolly said.
Spring Lake’s “2 miles of boardwalk were completely destroyed,” said borough administrator W. Bryan Dempsey. But that community, too, is largely ready for its summer with about 1 1/3 miles of boardwalk already restored. The remainder, including a pool and cabanas, was previously scheduled to be closed for restoration during this summer. “We basically had to build the boardwalk from the pilings up,” he said.
Along with the boardwalk work, borough employees have been sifting sand and removing debris. “We’ll be pushing sand back toward the ocean, trying to create as much beach area as we can,” Dempsey said. “We lost a lot of sand.”
The boardwalk will be completed sometime between May 10 – 15 and “it’ll be just wrapping up the loose ends,” he said.
Spring Lake’s boardwalk area is not as commercialized as others, with only a handful of retail operations along its length, but it is a significant draw. “A ton of people come down to walk the boardwalk,” with many frequenting local businesses in town, he said. “So, if the boardwalk’s not done, people aren’t going to stay at the hotels and bed and breakfasts,” Dempsey said.
Things are looking good for the summer he believes. “It’s going to be a great summer,” he said. “Everything is positive, everyone is happy.”
“If you are a true New Jerseyan, you have your favorite shore town, beach,” Monmouth Beach’s Howard noted. “We all have those memories.”
And given what the last six months have been like for those towns, she advised that visitors “go to those towns, come down. There will still be plenty for you.”