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By Charles Layton

The Camp Meeting Association’s hopes for receiving federal storm damage funds are based in part on the argument that our boardwalk and dunes provide more than just recreation – they protect the town against disastrous flooding.

Ralph delCampo, the Camp Meeting Association’s interim administrator, said in an interview on Friday that Ocean Grove’s boardwalk is “an enhanced protection to the town to keep the ocean at bay… It provides a critical function to Ocean Grove.”

In a separate interview, Neptune Township Mayor Randy Bishop said he thought the dunes, in particular, played a protective role during Hurricane Sandy. “I would hope the rebuilding of the dunes would be seen as a [storm] mitigation issue, because I believe the dunes proved their value during Hurricane Sandy,” he said.

If FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) sees it that way, Bishop and delCampo suggest, the agency may be more inclined to approve all or part of the Camp Meeting’s request for reimbursement.

DelCampo and Bishop also both said that the Camp Meeting received FEMA funds for boardwalk repairs following the 1992 northeaster. They would like for that precedent to apply in the present case.

Although Bishop seemed less than certain as to how FEMA might rule on the present application, delCampo exuded optimism: “We feel very confident that we will eventually get FEMA money.” (He made no prediction as to how much.)

DelCampo said a section of the Ocean Grove dunes – at the north end, from the pavilion to Seaview Avenue – is reinforced by a rubble wall underneath. “Those dunes didn’t move an inch” during the hurricane, he said. “Now look at the dunes in Bradley Beach. They all moved, they all got destroyed.” Bradley Beach’s dunes were built on top of piled-up Christmas trees rather than a solid rubble wall.

DelCampo also said the Ocean Grove boardwalk has retaining walls imbedded in the sand beside it, which act as flood barriers. “On the surface it looks like it’s just another boardwalk, but it’s more than meets the eye,” he said.

Because the Camp Meeting is a private non-profit organization, FEMA’s rules for federal relief are more restrictive for it than they are for governmental bodies. For instance, local governments can be reimbursed for damage to recreational facilities; private non-profits are not usually eligible for that, although they used to be, prior to 1993, when the rules were changed. It would seem, therefore, that Ocean Grove’s boardwalk would need to qualify as more than just a recreational feature. The FEMA rules do allow for reimbursement to private non-profits for “facilities that provide essential governmental services.” These, say the rules, can include “health and safety services of a governmental nature.”

It is unclear whether dunes or a boardwalk owned by the Camp Meeting can qualify for funding if they are considered to be vital flood protection. But if that is what determines FEMA’s decision, it is hard to see how the damage to the fishing pier could be justified on that basis. Earlier this year, FEMA turned down a request to fund repairs to the pier from damage by Hurricane Irene.

DelCampo said he expected FEMA to reimburse for damages at its normal rate of 75 percent, not at the 90-percent rate being sought by Governor Christie. “We’re trying to be realistic,” delCampo said. He said the Camp Meeting’s current estimates of $2.5 million in damages to the boardwalk and $750,000 to the pier are “very preliminary.”

The possibilities for reimbursement span a spectrum, from full FEMA reimbursement to no reimbursement at all. FEMA could decide, for instance, that the dunes are eligible but not the boardwalk.

However it goes, delCampo said the Camp Meeting “is absolutely committed to rebuilding the boardwalk” by the summer of 2014. He has been reading comments by some readers on this website who have grown impatient with what they consider the Camp Meeting’s inaction. He said that, in fact, the Camp Meeting has been writing funding applications, consulting with engineers, and researching the best ways to rebuild the boardwalk and dunes, based on the experience of Ocean Grove and other Jersey Shore communities. (It has been suggested, for instance, that the boardwalk might be more effective as a flood mitigation structure if it were relocated at a different distance from the ocean.)

DelCampo also said the Camp Meeting is seeking financial support from the Ocean Grove community and from other organizations.

“All of that is in the works,” he said, “but it takes time to do it right. We just ask people to be patient.”

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In Avon, work begins next month. Boardwalk planks have been stripped away and a beach building moved out of the way. Photo by Mary Walton

Neighboring towns are forging ahead. In Avon (above), where rebuilding is to start next month, boardwalk planks have been stripped away and a beach building moved off into the street. Photo by Mary Walton

By Mary Walton and Charles Layton

Barring a miracle, prospects for an Ocean Grove boardwalk by next summer are nonexistent.

“I would say that’s a realistic expectation,” Ralph delCampo, interim administrator of the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association, said Friday.

As neighboring towns move ahead with plans to repair their storm-damaged boardwalks, the holdup here in Ocean Grove appears largely financial. DelCampo said in an interview that the Camp Meeting has applied to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for money to repair the 60 percent of the boardwalk that Hurricane Sandy destroyed. “Our assumption is that we will get money from the federal government,” he said. The estimated cost of replacing the damaged sections of the boardwalk is around $2.5 million, and for the pier another $500,000.

But because the two facilities are owned by the Camp Meeting, which is a private, non-profit organization, FEMA reimbursement for Ocean Grove is less certain than it is for other Jersey Shore boardwalks, which are owned by municipalities.

Non-profits must demonstrate to FEMA’s satisfaction that the funds they receive will be used for “things that are structural to a community,” Robin Smith, a FEMA public affairs officer assigned to Monmouth County, wrote in an email to Blogfinger. She gave as an example a hospital or other facility necessary to health and welfare. She said the fact that the boardwalk “isn’t likely to be seen as critical infrastructure likely means it won’t qualify for grant funds.” Earlier this year FEMA rejected a request from the Camp Meeting for funds to repair the pier after Hurricane Irene lopped off its eastern tip.

DelCampo said the Camp Meeting, with the support of Neptune Township, is attempting to make the case to FEMA that the boardwalk offers flood and damage protection to the community and therefore is “more than a park-like setting or a functional walkway.”

Immediate plans for next summer call for providing beach access and fixing the area around the beach office. DelCampo noted that following the 1992 nor’easter, Ocean Grove was also without a boardwalk for a summer. In all, he said, repairs took two years.

In a recent mass mailing to Ocean Grove residents, the Camp Meeting asked for contributions to its “Now and Forever Fund” to aid in recovery. But in meetings with leaders of both the Ocean Grove Home Owners Association and Ocean Grove United, delCampo and Camp Meeting president Dale Whilden were told firmly that many of their members would prefer giving to a fund specially earmarked for Hurricane Sandy repairs, not to a general-purpose Camp Meeting fund. The Camp Meeting Board of Trustees considered that option but decided not to set up a separate fund, delCampo said. He pledged that the association will honor requests that contributions be used for specific purposes, such as boardwalk restoration or auditorium roof repairs.

Neighboring beach towns, according to press reports, have already appropriated funds for their damaged boardwalks in the expectation that FEMA will reimburse 75 percent of their costs. In Belmar, authorities are debating what kind of wood to buy with the $17 million that the town has allocated for reconstruction of its 1.3-mile boardwalk. Spring Lake has appropriated $4 million to cover the first stretch of a new boardwalk from the South Pavilion to Pier Beach, and expects to raise beach fees from $9 to $10. Avon plans to begin work on its boardwalk in mid-January with a $2.5 million appropriation. All these towns intend to have their boardwalks redone by the summer of 2013, as does Asbury Park.

Without a FEMA guarantee, the camp meeting would be hard pressed to pay for reconstruction. “We don’t have a money tree in the basement,” delCampo said. In 2010, according to the last financial accounting posted on its website, the Camp Meeting ran a deficit of $75,297 on total expenditures of $5,145,091. Twenty percent of its revenues of $5,069,794 came from “contributions, gifts, offerings and grants”; 41 percent came from entertainment revenue, and 27 per cent came from rental income. In contrast, in 2009 the Camp Meeting had a net surplus of $924,971. Between 2009 and 2010, revenues fell by $523,875, the bulk of which represented a $306,770 decline in the contribution category.

Del Campo informed the Ocean Grove Chamber of Commerce earlier this month that there would be no boardwalk next summer. “We heard this but we really didn’t want to hear this,” said Ocean Grove Chamber of Commerce president Rich Lepore, owner of Smuggler’s Cove on Main Avenue. He said he was reluctant to believe the news.  “I wouldn’t give up so soon.” Nevertheless, he added, “there was discussion that if there is no boardwalk there will still be a beach.”

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By Mary Walton

As the 2012 Labor Day weekend drew to a close under cloudy skies, the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association reported a somewhat gloomy financial picture at its traditional season’s end review.

Operating income of $3,164,000 fell $39,000 short of operating expenses. Contributions to the choir festival, Camp Meeting week and other special events were down by $24,500 over last year. And ticket sales to the Saturday night entertainment programs experienced an especially severe drop. They totaled 20,347, compared to 27,588 in 2011, a 26 percent decline that resulted in the lowest profit margin in eleven years.

Dr. Dale Whilden, CMA president, attributed the fall off in Saturday night attendance to competition from new entertainment outlets in the surrounding area, particularly Asbury Park. The loss of revenues when Johnny Mathis cancelled his August 11 appearance was another factor. Whilden added, “And the economy has got to be a part of this.”

On the bright side, as of Aug. 20 beach revenues had outpaced expenses $928,000 to $760,000. Beach profits, however, cannot be used to defray operating losses.

More than 100 people attended the meeting, which was held this year in the Youth Temple rather than its customary venue, the Bishop Janes Tabernacle. In another change from past years, the meeting was closed to the media.

“This meeting is targeted for supporters,” Ralph del Campo, interim chief operating officer, told this Blogfinger reporter before the meeting began. I was invited to sit in, but told not to report. He explained that people were under the false impression that the CMA was a public entity, which has not been the case since it was a municipality running Ocean Grove, a role now occupied by Neptune Township. He noted that as a religious organization the CMA is not obligated to make its sessions public. There was no explanation for why the change was suddenly enacted. In fact, Blogfinger has covered the meeting in past years. “We’re not trying to hide anything,” Whilden chimed in.

The change in policy was not announced during the meeting, and Bonnie Graham, a reporter for the Coaster, took notes throughout. Graham was unaware of the no-reporting rule until I made an issue of it during the questions and comments session that concluded the meeting. I asked that the CMA reconsider its policy in the interest of openness. Graham also objected to the rule against media reporting, and afterward said she was shocked and mystified. Trustees apparently were not aware of the decision either. “What’s that all about?” one asked me.

On another subject, Joan Caputo spoke for Ocean Grove United, a gay advocacy organization that has often been at odds with the CMA, most recently over the appearance of actor and evangelist Kirk Cameron, the author of harsh anti-gay remarks. After an OGU protest, Whilden and other CMA officials met with a group from the organization to hear their concerns. Caputo thanked them for having “in many ways opened their hearts and taken the time to meet with us, to listen and to share. Let the dialogue continue.” She made her remarks available to Blogfinger.

CMA Trustee Douglas E. Arpert responded to a questioner who asked the status of the North End development of condos, homes and a hotel. The CMA and a company called WAVE (Wesley Atlantic Village Enterprises) are co-developers. Arpert told Blogfinger they hope to conclude a redevelopment agreement with Neptune Township by the end of the year and to break ground in 2013.

After the meeting Del Campo and Whilden sat down with me to review the information that had been presented at the meeting, so that it could be included in this article.

In addition to financial news, they said that the search for a chief operating officer is nearing its conclusion. After an initial round of searching last year failed to produce a suitable candidate, the search was widened in the spring. The search committee received more than 30 resumes, and has narrowed the field to three, all men. The committee will conduct interviews in September and expects to name the new officer by year’s end.

In other statistics of interest, the most popular speakers this summer were Ravi Zakarias, who drew 2,900 Sunday morning worshippers this past Sunday, followed by Kirk Cameron, 2,300, and Tony Campolo, 2,058.

Neil Sedaka attracted the largest Saturday night crowd, 2,722, followed by Diana Krall, 2,470, and Michael W. Smith, 2,316.

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