By Charles Layton
A new spirit of good will and cooperation blossomed on Tuesday night, when leaders of the Camp Meeting Association and all of Ocean Grove’s major civic groups met to discuss storm recovery.
It falls to the Camp Meeting, as owner of the beach, to raise money and plan and execute the work of repairing the boardwalk and beach facilities.
However, others have a major stake, and up to now some of them had felt isolated, uninformed and frustrated. Merchants had complained because neighboring towns seemed to be moving ahead with rebuilding plans much faster than Ocean Grove. Other local groups said they wanted to help raise money for the beach and boardwalk, but their members hesitated for fear that donations for storm relief would be commingled with the Camp Meeting’s other funds and activities.
Camp Meeting officials organized Tuesday night’s meeting with those concerns fully in mind. “We’re all in the boat together and we all need to row in the same direction,” said Ralph delCampo, the Camp Meeting’s interim administrator. He and Camp Meeting president Dale Whilden pledged to keep everyone fully informed going forward. They also asked for everyone’s input, including their criticisms. But no criticisms were voiced on Tuesday night.
Those present included leaders of the Home Owners Association, the Historical Society, Ocean Grove United, the Fishing Club, the Chamber of Commerce and the Ocean Grove Beautification Project.
In laying out their plans for this year’s fund-raising campaign, DelCampo and other Camp Meeting officials stressed again and again that funds for the boardwalk and beachfront will be “totally separated” from all other funds. (Contributors can write “Boardwalk & Beach Front” in the memo field of their checks to have the donations routed to that separate account.)
The Camp Meeting officials said the entire beach will be open by Memorial Day and that most of the boardwalk will be operational, as will the beach office, bathrooms and changing rooms. And they discussed engineering issues in considerable detail. Bill Bailey, the Camp Meeting’s director of operations, used aerial photos of the beachfront to explain how different types of dune structures, bulkheads and barriers had functioned during Hurricane Sandy, and which of those might best prevent damage in future storms.
At the end of the meeting, Rich Lepore of the Chamber of Commerce expressed optimism about the summer season. “We’re going to do everything we possibly can do to drive home the fact that Ocean Grove is open,” he said.
Gail Shaffer of the Historical Society suggested that all of the organizations present should state on their websites that the OG beach will be open this summer. Others talked about plans to help with fund raising. Connie Ogden of OG Beautification said “We intend to go full blast” in providing decorative plantings along the boardwalk and elsewhere. Luisa Paster of Ocean Grove United suggested sending news releases to The Coaster on a regular basis.
Camp Meeting development officer Karen Adams began the meeting with an explanation of this year’s fund-raising campaign. She said the Camp Meeting normally needs to raise about $1 million, but this year the need is much greater. The cost of fixing the boardwalk and beachfront is estimated at $3 million, she said. Assuming that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) provides 75 percent of that amount, the Camp Meeting would need to raise another $750,000. Thornley Chapel is also in need of $500,000 worth of renovation (not related to the hurricane), and $100,000 must be raised for repairs to the storm-damaged auditorium roof. Insurance will cover the rest of the auditorium costs.
Ordinarily, the Camp Meeting would simply put donations for all those projects into a single fund. However, Whilden said, “We fully realize that probably the majority of the community is primarily interested in the boardwalk,” and therefore “there will be no commingling of funds. They’re completely different funds.”
Whilden said the Camp Meeting has already raised $190,000.
Bailey led a technical discussion of beach barriers and dunes. He said the Camp Meeting believes the reason the portion of the boardwalk from the pavilion to Seaview Avenue held up so well was because the dunes along that stretch of beach were constructed on top of a rubble wall buried beneath the sand. This rubble wall had been installed following a 1953 nor’easter. It has performed so well that the Camp Meeting would like to use that same type of structure along the entire length of the beach. However, “ultimately, it’s going to be all about the money,” Bailey said, “and those rubble walls are expensive.”
The Camp Meeting also discovered that a sheet steel bulkhead in front of the boardwalk at the south end had provided good protection there. Engineers have been helping the Camp Meeting study these and other options for rebuilding.
Bailey said the reason Ocean Grove did not announce its rebuilding plans as quickly as other towns was that the Camp Meeting wanted to first determine which structures will best prevent damage in future storms. “We’ve got to get this right,” he said. “We’re investing a lot of money. We’ve got to study it.”
DelCampo said Ocean Grove needs to avoid what happened in Spring Lake, where the boardwalk was damaged by Hurricane Irene in 2011, the town rebuilt it immediately, and then it was destroyed again just one year later by Hurricane Sandy.
According to Bailey, here is what visitors to Ocean Grove can expect by Memorial Day:
- The beach will be open in its entirety.
- The south end boardwalk – from the beach office to Bradley Beach — will be restored.
- From just north of the beach office to just north of McClintock Street the boardwalk will not be in place, but beach access points will be provided.
- From the pavilion to the north end the boardwalk will be in place.
Still unanswered is the question of access to Asbury Park. As a temporary fix. there may just be an asphalt pathway.
Also, before summer, the Camp Meeting will send volunteer rescue divers out to retrieve submerged offshore debris.
The Camp Meeting officials said they still had no word as to whether FEMA will agree to provide any funds for restoring the boardwalk. Neither do they know when FEMA might announce that decision. For background on that, see this previous story.