By Lauren Wanko
While Jersey Shore towns are racing against the clock to rebuild their boardwalks by Memorial Day, Ocean Grove is at a standstill and faced with $3.5 million in damages. The Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association owns the beachfront and FEMA denied the request for funding to rebuild.
“We were told that we as an entity do actually comply and are eligible to receive funding, however, where we differ is that they classify our beachfront — our boardwalk specifically — as a recreational facility, which does not justify for them to receive FEMA funding,” said Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association Interim COO Ralph Del Campo.
Business owners along Main Street couldn’t disagree more.
“If you look at the boardwalk in Ocean Grove — and I think this is where some people make a mistake — they see a non-commercial area and they say well it’s just a recreational zone, but it’s not. It actually is one of the main attractions to Ocean Grove and it’s a part really of an economic engine for this entire region,” said The Melrose Bed and Breakfast owner Randy Bishop.
“Whether they’re jogging on the boardwalk, whether they’re walking the boards, … a good percentage then flow into the town and bring their business,” said Barbaric Bean Coffee Roasters owner Joe Parrillo.
“It has to be up and running, otherwise a lot of our merchants I don’t think can exist,” said George Befarah, co-owner of The Village Kloset.
Sixty percent of the boardwalk was destroyed by Sandy along with the iconic fishing pier. Still local merchants say they’re grateful the Victorian homes didn’t suffer major damage and all the shops along Main Street are open for business.
“The fact that we had such little devastation almost makes you feel like they should fix that so all the people that do come here can enjoy it completely,” said Smuggler’s Cove owner Richard Lepore, who is also president of the Ocean Grove Chamber of Commerce.
The Association has borrowed nearly half a million dollars to rebuild parts of the beachfront.
“This is our beach office complex and lifeguard station and we knew that that was a priority and that we had to get that up and running,” said Bill Bailey, director of operations for the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association.
Association representatives say the boardwalk around their beach house will be completed by the summer, but the fishing pier and the remainder of the boardwalk won’t be.
A spokesperson from Gov. Chris Christie’s office says the administration wrote a letter to the acting FEMA regional administrator requesting they reconsider their decision. Del Campo is overwhelmed by the outpouring of support.
“It’s really an example of a community coming together for one common goal,” Del Campo said.
The Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association is in the process of filing an appeal. Local officials say tourists will still have full access to the beach this summer.