Police officers removed the final barricades in the oceanfront section of Ortley Beach on Friday, a small but critical step as the area continues to recover from Superstorm Sandy.
Termed "ground zero" in the storm, over 2,000 properties in the section of Toms River were damaged or destroyed, with hundreds displaced from their homes and even more unable to spend the summer season in their second homes.
Rebuilding has been slow, but steady, over the winter, with activity picking up sharply over the first few weeks of spring as more and more houses are being built or raised.
In the area where the barricades were removed Friday, essentially the streets which run along the oceanfront, the storm ripped pavement from the ground and destroyed the boardwalk, township-owned buildings and many homes in the process.
"The blacktop was down the side streets, including one chunk of blacktop that had a portion of the blue handicap emblem up against one of the houses," said Mayor Thomas Kelaher. "We kept the side streets closed because we waited until all the utilities were back in place."
The area only recently got its utilities back, though there are still many vacant lots where houses once stood.
But despite the devastation, and a long and arduous process of recovery for many homeowners, there are signs that Ortley Beach will eventually come back – albeit forever changed.
Council President Maria Maruca said the township's lifeguard stations and public bathroom facilities at Lord House, between Third and Fourth avenues, will be operational for the beach season, and the entire boardwalk will be open.
There is also progress in rebuilding residential homes.
Maruca said 1,283 demolition permits have been issued and 762 have been completed town-wide, though most of those are in Ortley Beach. Likewise, the township has issued 686 new home permits with 72 completely built. Also, 270 elevation permits have been issued with 21 completed.
"A lot of people are still waiting for insurance money and grant money," said Maruca. "One of the [other] issues is that there are only so many contractors and there are waiting lists."
Township officials say the beach will have a complete compliment of lifeguards this season, and plans for an additional lifeguard building are pending.