SEASIDE HEIGHTS, N.J. – Coastal areas of New Jersey and New York that lost their boardwalks to Superstorm Sandy’s surge are racing to rebuild them in time for tourist season – in some places, without the boards.
For reasons both practical and environmental, some communities are proposing to replace their wooden boardwalks with more durable synthetic materials or even concrete. That is raising objections from those who say nothing else looks, feels or even smells quite like a true wooden boardwalk.
In New York, where Mayor Michael Bloomberg had already decided wooden boardwalks don’t cut it anymore, a group from the Coney Island section of Brooklyn sued last year to block a plan to replace wooden boardwalks with concrete and plastic.
“When hurricanes come through, they don’t ask whether it’s concrete or wood,” said Todd Dobrin, the group’s leader, not convinced concrete boardwalks would withstand a storm any better than wood. “They destroy whatever is in their path.”
New York City parks officials say concrete sections of boardwalk in Queens’ Rockaways and Coney Island did hold up much better when Sandy hit in late October.
Bloomberg has long wanted to move away from the tropical hardwoods, harvested from endangered rainforests, that were used to build many boardwalks.
That is an issue Tim Keating, director of Rainforest Relief, has been working on for years. He says communities will be under pressure to quickly rebuild but urges them to resist the temptation to use tropical wood such as ipe, which is cheaper than synthetic materials and popular for its durability.
Keating says durable synthetic materials are the best choice for boardwalks; several places already have used it.
Manasquan, N.J., for decades has paved its beachfront walkway with asphalt. Yet that, too, gets trashed by major storms.
Whatever communities decide, they need to do it soon. For many shore towns, boardwalks are their summertime economic engine. In these towns, not having one is not an option. They will need the tourism money this summer more than ever.