Hurricane Sandy By: Mario Tama Getty Images News
USA TODAY- Repairs to the severely damaged boardwalk here are in jeopardy now that the federal government has rejected a request for a little more than $1 million in aid.
In its decision, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said the boardwalk, destroyed in superstorm Sandy, did not qualify for federal aid because the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association, considered a private nonprofit organization, owns it.
And that has Neptune Township officials concerned over how the Camp Meeting Association will be able afford repairs for the popular unincorporated summertime destination.
"The Camp Meeting is the largest single landowner in Neptune," Township Committeeman Randy Bishop said. "This type of a burden financially to them could put them in some very serious financial trouble. What happens if my largest landowner goes bankrupt?"
Estimates of the damage to the boardwalk, including destruction of the fishing pier at the south end of the half-mile section - range from $2.5 million to $3.5 million, Bishop said. He said he worries about the financial stability of the Camp Meeting Association, founded in 1869 by Methodists as a oceanside camp for summer revivals, if it is forced to pay for repairs.
Camp Meeting Association officials could not be reached for comment Wednesday. Plans detailed in mid-January on the association's website show that officials are moving ahead with a three-phase restoration plan for both the beach and boardwalk and knew it would be treated differently from municipalities in its quest for federal money.
Officials noted that FEMA has in the past awarded aid to repair the boardwalk here, most recently after the 1992 nor'easter.
Neptune Township Mayor Eric Houghtaling said the Ocean Grove boardwalk's placement is unique along the Jersey Shore.
"Ocean Grove is one of the few towns that really has a business district right up to the ocean," he said. "Our main street goes right up to the boardwalk. Everything is really centered toward looking out at the ocean at the boardwalk."
Bishop, who was mayor when superstorm Sandy destroyed the religious enclave's boardwalk, said FEMA's decision is "very short sighted."
"One of the unique things about the boardwalk is the boardwalk acts as part of the economic engine" in the region, he said. "People move between the various towns to make this regional economy. Any type of interruption is extremely detrimental to the overall area and the largest industry in New Jersey, which is tourism."
Bishop said FEMA's decision "is a setback, but as far as I'm concerned, it is not the end of the ask. We'll find a way to help them because it is so critical to the municipality."
State Sen. Jennifer Beck, a Republican from Red Bank, N.J., said in a news release that FEMA's decision is "not only disappointing, it is unacceptable."
"The Ocean Grove boardwalk serves as an essential public thoroughfare and connects Bradley Beach to Asbury Park," she said in the release. "It provides access to emergency services and augments flood protection measures. We will be appealing this ruling immediately.
"I am hopeful that in our appeal those making these decisions will see the long-term implications of this decision and realize that not only is the Ocean Grove boardwalk a public property but it is essential to both the safety and commerce of Ocean Grove and surrounding towns," she said.
While FEMA did approve aid to fix the community's boardwalk after the 1992 storm, the agency denied aid for it after Hurricane Irene in 2011.
Bill Bowman, Asbury Park (N.J.) Press