By Chris Rotolo |
MONMOUTH BEACH – After the completion of a protective seawall on the beachfront, construction of an outdoor observation deck is anticipated to begin in the spring.
But a newly elected member of the Board of Commissioners has a different point of view on the project.
On July 26, 2016, the borough commission adopted a Superstorm Sandy Capital Improvements ordinance that appropriated $1.8 million for the construction of an observation deck near the Monmouth Beach Bathing Pavilion. The project will be paid with a $358,995 grant from FEMA, and $1.4 million bond.
It was unanimously approved by the governing body, which was then comprised of Commissioners Jim Cunniff and William McBride, and Mayor Sue Howard.
The project is due to begin following the completion of the repair of the 650-foot gap in the Monmouth Beach seawall between Valentine Street and the existing wall on the south side of the Monmouth Beach Bathing Pavilion.
According to Howard, the elevated observation deck will be built at the peak height of the seawall, and extend forward from the bathing pavilion pergola at 29 Ocean Ave. up to the completed seawall.
In an Aug. 24 interview, Howard said the decking project will restore the prized oceanic views borough residents and visitors have grown accustomed to.
“If we build the seawall and don’t do anything, residents will not be able to see the ocean anymore. There’s going to be a seawall in the way. They’ll lose that view they love so much, a view that has attracted so many people to our town over the years,” Howard said.
According to Howard, the contracting company, J. Fletcher Creamer & Son, Inc., has until March 1 to complete work on the seawall, though she anticipates it will be finished ahead of that deadline. Construction on the deck will begin immediately thereafter so as not to interfere with the 2019 summer season.
Borough commissioner Dave Stickle, who was the top vote-getter in a May 2017 election, in which he was elected to a four-year term – 10 months after the ordinance was adopted and the bond approved – believes the decking project should be tabled for further discussion, and a more cost-effective solutions to the issue should be explored.
“I think it’s a big waste of money,” Stickle said. “I think there are better, less costly options available to our residents that will achieve the same effect.”
Stickle believes if the public was surveyed, Monmouth Beach residents would come out against the improvement project.
“The last time the mayor wanted to sink a couple million into the beach was about 10 years ago, and the town got a petition signed to put a referendum on the ballot, and the project got shot down pretty dramatically,” Stickle said. “I think there’s a lack of communication and understanding as to what a lot of the residents in town think should be done up there.”
Howard countered, “We’ve been communicating with our residents for years now, telling them this project was coming. I think everybody understands it. I don’t think people feel ill-informed, or that they feel passionate about this at this point,” she said.
An alternate option was pitched by Courtney Wladyka at the Aug. 21 commissioner’s meeting, where the borough resident inquired about the construction of a walkway that would run the length of the seawall with protective hand rails affixed on both sides.
Wladyka said she took the idea from the recent sea-walk developed in nearby Sea Bright, which spans the municipality’s downtown business district offering access to beachfront bars, restaurants, and parking lots.
At the meeting, Monmouth Beach Borough Administrator Judy Wilson said the cost of running a concrete slab and handrails the length of the 650-foot seawall extension would be approximately $203,000 ($87,000 for the concrete slab, and $116,000 for the handrails).
“I think it was an excellent idea, and it can certainly remain under consideration, but I have considered it, and it comes down to this; what are we trying to accomplish?” Howard said. “Sea Bright is trying to create a destination, and it’s completely different from what we’re trying to maintain here.”
Howard also cited potential security and safety risks a seawall walkway would pose for the youth of Monmouth Beach.
Though the borough did appropriate $1.8 million for the project, Howard said that the final cost can’t be known until it’s put out to bid. However, she is hopeful the bids will come in lower than the $1.4 million that was bonded for.
Stickle said of the bidding process, “When it comes up for a vote to approve a contract to get it built, I’m going to vote for what the residents want, whatever that may be.”
Engineering plans for the construction of the deck have been completed and mailed to residents within 200 feet of the project site. Those plans are available for public viewing at the front desk of the Monmouth Beach Bathing Pavilion.
This article was first published in the August 30-Sept. 6, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.
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