SEASIDE HEIGHTS, N.J. (AP) — The ticking of the clock has been drowned out by the hammering of nails and the pounding of pile drivers in many Jersey shore towns racing to finish boardwalk rebuilding projects before Memorial Day weekend and the hoped-for onslaught of summer tourists.
Up and down the shore, communities whose oceanfront walkways were destroyed by Superstorm Sandy are hurrying to finish new ones. And while almost all vow to be ready for the unofficial start of summer in two weeks, some are clearly closer to that goal than others.
Belmar, one of the first Jersey shore towns to begin replacing its walkway, finished the major phase of its project by a self-imposed April 30 deadline — an impressive performance that earned its contractor a $100,000 bonus. Railings and lights still need to be installed, but officials say they're coming soon.
Pat Higgins splits her years between Bronxville, N.Y., and Belmar, where she spends each spring and summer. She was thrilled to walk on the new boardwalk one recent weekend.
"Before I walked on it, I just sat my behind down on it and said, 'This is so beautiful,'" she said. "I'm just so happy to be here and have this again."
To the south of Belmar, Spring Lake is virtually finished with its boardwalk; sections have been walkable for months already, and Sea Girt is nearing completion of its own project.
To the north, Avon is about halfway done with its boardwalk; the borough got a late start due to legal wrangling over boardwalk business reconstruction, and a dispute with environmentalists over its decision to rebuild using ipe, a hardwood cut from tropical rain forests.
One of New Jersey's most famous boardwalks, in Seaside Heights, is hurdling toward completion as well. About two-thirds of the walkway has been rebuilt and is already being trod upon by pedestrians. What remains, a section roughly from the rental house made famous by MTV's "Jersey Shore" reality show to the northern boundary with Ortley Beach, remains under construction. Pilings have been driven deep into the sand, and support structures are being attached.
Mayor Bill Akers vows the entire walkway will be ready for Memorial Day weekend crowds.
"You'll be able to walk the entire length of the boardwalk, from one end to the other, by Memorial Day weekend," he said. "That is a certainty. We will absolutely be ready."
Like Belmar's boardwalk, Seaside's walkway will add lighting and rails as soon as possible, but probably not in time for the holiday weekend.
Most of Bradley Beach's oceanfront walkway is made of paving stones that survived the storm, but a small section of wooden boardwalk at its southern end is still gone. Joggers have to run in the street next to where it once was. The northern portion of the boardwalk, which is also wood, remains intact.
In Ocean Grove, the historical section of Neptune Township, much of the boardwalk was wrecked by Sandy, and large parts remain missing. New framing has been laid down at the southern end, but long stretches are still gone, fenced off amid a jumble of titled lighting poles and downed wires. The part of the boardwalk near the gazebo owned by the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association is intact, as is the northern section of walkway up to the Asbury Park border.
Asbury Park appears to have finished its boardwalk repairs, with new lumber integrated into the walkway near the historic Asbury Park Casino building at the city's south end.
Manasquan has rebuilt its asphalt beach walkway, which has served as its equivalent of a boardwalk for decades, and Lavallette is planning a May 20 event to celebrate the completion of its boardwalk.
Boardwalks farther south at the Jersey shore, including Atlantic City, Ocean City and the Wildwoods, were virtually untouched by Sandy and will be open as always for Memorial Day weekend.
Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC