Six months after Hurricane Sandy destroyed large sections of the iconic Long Beach boardwalk, roughly 1,000 people gathered at Riverside Boulevard beach last Saturday to watch city officials break ground on a new structure, in what many described as a symbol of the city’s comeback after the storm.
The ceremony officially kicked off the reconstruction of the 2.2-mile boardwalk, and some sections in the center of the city are scheduled to be completed by July.
Officials said that the contract the city signed on April 16 with Grace Industries, the company that submitted the lowest responsible bid for the project, requires Grace to finish parts of the structure, between Laurelton Boulevard and Long Beach Road, in 100 days, and to complete the entire project in 210 days.
“It couldn’t have happened on a better day,” resident Doug O’Grady said of the ceremony, for which the weather was clear and sunny. O’Grady, a trustee of the New York City Carpenters Local Union 45 who is known for his post-Sandy volunteer work in Long Beach, said that the project marks an important milestone for the city. “They have the right company behind it,” he said, “and I think everything will go smoothly.”
U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, former Sen. Alfonse D’Amato, State Assemblyman Harvey Weisenberg and members of the City Council spoke at the ceremony. Even musician and Long Beach resident Joan Jett showed up to show her support. Council President Scott Mandel said that the turnout illustrated the city’s post-Sandy solidarity. In January, nearly 3,000 people turned out to say goodbye to the old boardwalk before it was torn down.
“Our city, unlike any other city, stands together,” Mandel said. “We came together months ago to mourn the loss of our boardwalk. Today we come together to celebrate the rebirth of it. … The true test of a community is not just celebrating in the good times, it’s also consoling and standing shoulder to shoulder in the bad times … We shouldered the bad times. Now we’re going to celebrate our good times. Our beach will be open Memorial Day weekend. We will have our concerts three days a week. We will have our fireworks extravaganza, our arts and crafts festivals, our film festivals, our camps and recreation programs and, to boot, food trucks.”
Schumer, who biked to the ceremony from Brooklyn, called the boardwalk not only a symbol of Long Beach, but of New York. “It’s going to come back bigger, better and stronger than ever,” he said.
Many residents said they were looking forward to walking, jogging, bicycling and other activities when the $44.2 million project is completed. “The word community is really at the core of this ceremony, and it’s going to pump the lifeblood back into Long Beach,” said resident Larry Moriarty, president of the local chapter of the Surfrider Foundation. “There’s still devastation, so there’s going to be a lot more healing that needs to be done, but marking the time six months later is important, because we need to be able to look back at where we were to where we are now, to see that we’re doing marginally better. Some [people] aren’t back. It’s not all going to happen in a linear fashion … some business owners will come back, some homeowners will come back … it’s just going to take time.”
The ceremony concluded when officials placed a large city flag on a ceremonial first beam that was installed on an exposed concrete stanchion, which drew cheers from the crowd.
“You’re going to see sections of the boardwalk open throughout the summer,” City Manager Jack Schnirman said after the ceremony. “As we go throughout the summer, we’re going to see a boardwalk springing up before our eyes. It will make it a summer that everybody remembers. Everybody will remember the summer that the boardwalk was built. Everybody will remember where they were and how they watched the construction. Everybody will get a chance to see the Long Beach flag travel throughout the boardwalk as each section is built.”
The new boardwalk will feature a low-maintenance tropical hardwood that has a 30- to 40-year lifespan. A wooden span with concrete edges will be built between National Boulevard and Long Beach Road, and the walkway’s eastern and western sections will be all wood.
Builders will use 2x6 boards instead of the previous 2x4s, laid out east-west, in contrast to the north-south design of the old boardwalk, with 1/8-inch gaps between them. Officials have said this will reduce vibrations for bikes, strollers and wheelchairs. The design also includes aluminum pipe railing and antique light poles and fixtures. The height of the structure will remain the same, 17 feet above sea level, and beneath it, a wave-break wall will be built to prevent the kind of extensive damage that Hurricane Sandy caused.
The contract is intended to keep the project’s completion date on track, and includes a built-in labor agreement with the city and Nassau County building trade unions and contractors. There is a 12-hours-a-day, six-days-a-week work schedule, and two crews will employ a total of approximately 120 workers.
“Our engineering and consulting firm will monitor and hold construction work accountable to a tight timeline," Schnirman said at the April 16 City Council meeting. "The boardwalk reconstruction process includes milestones, one of which is the 100-day milestone in mid-July. As sections of the boardwalk are completed, they’ll be open to the public for walkers, joggers and bicyclists to enjoy.”