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Ortley Boardwalk Wood Comes Under Fire from Environmentalists [VIDEO]

Township Council awarded contract for reconstruction of Sandy-devastated boardwalk on April 10

Weeks after a contract was awarded for the reconstruction of Ortley Beach's boardwalk, environmentalists again expressed concerns to Toms River councilmembers about the Brazilian wood slated for the project. 

The $953,760 contract awarded on April 10 to fix the boardwalk devastated by Superstorm Sandy includes the use of Brazilian Garapa wood, which township officials have said is harvested in a documented and sustainable manner. But some said at a Tuesday night Township Council meeting that any deforestation is bad for the environment. 

"We don't think this is an environmentally smart decision," said Gregory Auriemma, chairman of the Sierra Club's Ocean County group.

Auriemma said that deforestation contributes to climate change, which in turns leads to an increase of destructive storms like Sandy. Other American woods or composite material could have been good alternatives to the Garapa, he said, while questioning whether the wood really was harvested sustainably. 

"Unless you want to pass an ordinance to fly me down to Brazil, nobody's going to check whether or not they did what they said they were going to do. It's a piece of paper," Auriemma said, referring to a certificate given to the township indicating that the wood was harvested properly. 

Township engineer Robert Chankalian has said that the wood is GPS tagged and harvested selectively, meaning entire tracts of lands are not leveled and seeding trees are left to grow. 

Brazilian authorities are involved in certifying the wood is harvested sustainable, according to township officials. 

"We've been provided with a chain of custody," Chankalian said. 

"We feel that we're on very firm ground and are correct" in using the wood, township attorney Kenneth Fitzsimmons said when the contract was awarded to Tekton Development Corp. of New Brunswick. 

Using the Brazilian wood rather than a composite material saves the township about $10,000 on the project, Chankalian said, since fewer joists are required to support the wood boards.

The township also faced a charge of racism by Rainforest Relief member Tom Mahedy, who was the only activist to speak at the council meeting when the contract was awarded two weeks ago. He said that the trees are cut with no concerns for the indigenous people living there.

"This is also a question of racism, because you don't care about killing brown people because we want their stuff, we want their trees," Mahedy said, stirring up the audience.

"That's inappropriate and we're not going to stand for it," said Council President George Wittmann after banging his gavel to regain order at the meeting.

"From those who have experience in the rainforest, who have lived in the rainforest, they would tell you that their homes are being destroyed," Mahedy said.

"Your comments are despicable, for you to say that," Wittmann said.

A video of the exchange is available in this article's media box to the above right. 

Township officials have said they plan to have the beach open between 3rd and 5th Avenues by Memorial Day, making the boardwalk's completion important. 

The contract requires the northerly 600 feet of boardwalk — the area by the 3rd Avenue parking lot — to be complete by June 1 of this year. That portion is being focused on first because the township said it plans to have the beach area there open this summer. The remainder of the reconstruction must be completed no later than Aug. 15.

"The remaining area was less time critical since access to that area will be contingent upon the reconstruction of Ocean Terrace/Avenue," Chankalian said after the contract was awarded. "We will of course shoot to have things done earlier."

A FEMA reimbursement to Toms River of between 75 to 90 percent of the cost to reconstruct the boardwalk is expected, but the exact percentage has not yet been determined. 

"The boardwalk rebuilding project is important because it will start to bring a sense of normalcy back to the Ortley Beach," Mayor Thomas Kelaher said following the awarding of the contract. "We have a lot of work ahead of us, but the boardwalk is one of our landmarks that residents, and visitors alike, expect to see as they approach the beach area."

Belmar was slated to use Ipe, harvested from rainforest trees, to rebuild its boardwalk but switched to another wood after pressure from environmentalists.

George M. Lobman April 25, 2013 at 01:13 PM
This fellow has a real agenda to push to support the environment. I understand the intent but the practical point is WTH is he talking about here? Racism when your speaking about wood already cut and shipped halfway around the world! Are you kidding me! This is just another way to get publicity for a group out to shut down our powerplants and push us back to commuting with horses and bikes. Society is moving forward while some are moving backwards. If we are smart enought to get people on the moon why cannot we find a way to build that battery to power that car? Why do we have to have people like this talk stupid to us so that they build political points for other front? Wake up people we spent Billions on failed power businesses under Obama and ignore the Natural Gas we have here in this country right now. Its not about the power or the cost its about the theory of saving the planet from a Carbon footprint and more taxes to pay Al Gore for his brains and greed!
grace April 25, 2013 at 02:37 PM
you go jim....and what about disabled people that have to elevate..how do we get inside now and so on..also seniors on fixed incomes no pensions how do they afford this and so on...yes jim where is that money raised to help us victims?
grace April 25, 2013 at 02:41 PM
power plant should be shut down..sorry but almost is too close for me and almost it was when sandy went thru..thank god people it was shut down during that storm...and i am so sick of political correctness too..ok my spouting is done..now fix ortley beach homes!! boardwalk can be done later...sorry
George M. Lobman April 25, 2013 at 04:00 PM
Power plant is producing the power we need and it is the ONLY one we have. If it shuts down before this collection of clowns in the White House have a chance to build something else we will have no power of our own. Think of that tax increase will ya. That will also be a major disruption to the workforce and property taxs in Lacy as well as most other Ocean County citizens. Lets move forward not backward. Come up with a suggestion that is cost effective not people distructive!
George M. Lobman April 25, 2013 at 04:06 PM
The Parkway widening is taking down trees to build wider systems with wider shoulders and more entrances both North and South. Not one more tree then is absolutel necessary is being taken down. The replanting will supplement that area but yes it will be some time befors they are full grown trees again. Take a look at pictures from 1960's and compare them to what you see now in your neighborhood. It cannot be the same! Progress does change infrastructure and the planners on both the Parkways and the County have taken special care not to take more then is absolutely necessary. moving people will save the atmosphere, take away the long delay at getting home on Friday night from up North and save the lifes that could be lost in the antiquated streach of parkway road system that has taken so many in the past few years.

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