By Charles Layton
It’s been nearly 14 months since Hurricane Irene smashed into the Ocean Grove fishing pier, taking out nine pilings and about a 20-foot section at the far end of the landmark structure.
Neither the Camp Meeting Association, which owns the pier, nor the Ocean Grove Fishing Club, which leases the end of it, has yet come up with any firm plan to make repairs.
One of the Fishing Club’s trustees, Fran Paladino, said in an interview that his organization is prepared to float a loan to restore the pier to its former condition if the Camp Meeting, for its part, will agree to extend the Club’s lease on the pier. “I would say if our request is granted we would go ahead,” Paladino said.
Ralph DelCampo, the Camp Meeting’s interim chief administrator, said the organization has yet to decide on the Fishing Club’s request for a lease extension.
Shortly after the August, 2011 hurricane, the Camp Meeting applied for $150,000 — the estimated cost of repairs at that time — from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). However, FEMA informed the Camp Meeting that its request would be rejected “because,” DelCampo said, “the fishing club area is private.”
Although much of the pier is open to the public, the section at the end (about 96 feet, Paladino said) is leased by the Club and restricted to its 125 members. The Club’s 30-year lease is set to expire 12 years from now. The Fishing Club has not committed to making full repairs without an extension of the lease. “We’re stepping up and our members are paying for the restoration, but they should be able to continue its use as it was in the past,” Paladino said. He said the Club recently delivered a letter to the Camp Meeting explaining its desire that the lease be extended to 30 years from the present time.
Asked what the Club would do if the Camp Meeting refuses to extend the lease, Paladino said the Club’s board has not yet addressed that. One alternative might be to make something less than a full restoration, perhaps leaving the end section cut off short. “There’s a lot of ifs at this point.”
Paladino said the Club has a “rainy day” fund of cash which, combined with the members’ $150-per-year dues, would be enough to handle a loan in the neighborhood of $150,000.
DelCampo said in an interview that the Camp Meeting, meanwhile, is getting some construction estimates. “The economy being the way it is, we wanted to get a realistic estimate,” he said. “We haven’t received that yet.”
Asked if that meant the Camp Meeting itself might be inclined to foot the bill for repairs, he said, “All of it is being looked at, but no final decisions are being made.” He said the Camp Meeting continues to have “dialogue with the Fishing Club leadership.”
Partial, emergency repairs were made shortly after the hurricane. Paladino said the end of the pier is safe at present, but that not enough of it remains for the Club to continue its popular summer program of teaching kids to fish. There is only enough room for a few people at a time to fish on the end of the pier, the part behind the shack. Leaving the pier as shortened as it is now could eventually cause the Club to lose members, Paladino said.
“Unfortunately we’re in the middle of a negotiation,” he said. “What one side does will determine what the other side does.”