Posted: Tuesday, November 16, 2010.
By DEREK HARPER Staff Writer Press of Atlantic City
ATLANTIC CITY — Waves crash onto the beach behind a section of the Boardwalk in the inlet, slapping the structure’s piling each time.
As the waves recede, they reveal the exposed foundations of two long-vanished houses. Jagged concrete, surf-rounded bricks and crumbled asphalt litter the beach and can be found on Pacific and Oriental avenues. Wooden bulkheads have collapsed, and waves break underneath the Boardwalk, soaking the fishermen who congregate here.
The city and federal government are preparing a multimillion-dollar project to essentially extend a rock jetty to Atlantic Avenue and rebuild the Boardwalk behind it.
But beyond Atlantic Avenue, the future is uncertain for the rest of the inlet’s Boardwalk, one of the more residential sections of the wooden promenade that extends a little more than 4 miles in Atlantic City and 1¾ miles in Ventnor.
The Boardwalk once wrapped all the way around to Caspian Avenue, deep in the inlet. But the inlet portion has long been in slow-motion decline, as the city focused its attention elsewhere.
Long-ago storms that undercut the walkway led the city to cut off access between Caspian and Melrose avenues. The Boardwalk was further diverted when Atlantic County’s Oscar E. McClinton Jr. Waterfront Park at Madison Avenue opened in 1998.
After heavy storms last winter, the city limited access to parts of the Boardwalk from an area near the Flagship Resort, north of Atlantic Avenue, to slightly north of Pacific Avenue. City crews finally cut gaps in access ramps and the Boardwalk over the summer, separating the worst-damaged sections from those considered still salvageable.
Even so, the railing near Pacific Avenue wobbles alarmingly with the slightest touch as it leans over the ocean waves.
“Nobody likes it and nobody comes here but us,” fisherman George Fuentes, 28, said as he fished at the end of the Boardwalk.
That’s not a bad thing for fishermen: Fuentes said he caught a 50-pounder Wednesday.
Last week, Wanda Ortiz, 43, and her son Pedro Feliciano, 19, and daughter Yoeliz Lopez, 25, took pictures of the waves as they passed underneath the boards. The damage was worse than the longtime resort residents said they had ever seen.
When she and her children were younger, Ortiz said, she used to take them here to play. All still live in the inlet, they said. Building a sea wall was “an awesome, awesome idea,” Feliciano said, saying it should be built all the way through the inlet.
The sea wall project would cut down the costly task of repeatedly repairing that storm-battered stretch of Boardwalk, said Keith D. Watson, project manager with the Army Corps of Engineers in Philadelphia. Plans did not extend beyond Atlantic Avenue because Watson said that stretch of waterfront still had adequate bulkheads.
City Engineer John Feairheller said his office is drafting plans for both the reconstruction and the demolition of the rest of the inlet Boardwalk. He did not know what the city leadership would decide, or when.
Plans on file with the city show the top of the sea wall would stand 15 feet above sea level. A boardwalk would then be rebuilt behind the 1,100-foot rock wall, protected from future waves.
Construction on the sea wall and Boardwalk would start in the winter, said Paul Jerkins, city public works director, and would run concurrently with the $7.8 million emergency beach replenishment project in the nearby Southeast Inlet.
Jerkins said the sea wall would stand 4 feet above the Boardwalk, about the height of the Boardwalk’s current railing.
The Army Corps of Engineers would build the sea wall and the city would spend about $6 million to rebuild the Boardwalk between Atlantic and Rhode Island avenues, Jerkins said. Watson estimated the sea wall would cost between $5 million and $10 million.
Leftover rubble, abandoned building foundations, splintered wooden bulkhead pillars and mounds of sandy debris that give the area a feeling of decay also would be removed as part of the project.
Barring unforeseen delays, Jerkins said the entire project would wrap up by the end of summer 2011.
The Army Corps of Engineers has long planned to extend the sea wall, Watson said. He said the agency completed a feasibility study in 1999. Getting required permits and finding the necessary state and federal funding has pushed back construction.
Jerkins and Feairheller also blamed bureaucratic snafus. State officials in Trenton had wanted the sea wall behind the Boardwalk, they said, while federal officials in Washington, D.C., wanted it erected in front of the Boardwalk.
The two said federal officials had not applied for state permits until this year for fear the permits would be rejected.
The city has long relied on outside real estate projects to pay for improvements to the Boardwalk.
The city initially approved a 462-residence condominium project for the Garwood Mills site in 2004, with the condition it would pay for nearby Boardwalk repairs. The 41.5-acre tract sits at the intersection of Caspian and New Hampshire avenues, the site of a former department store.
While the project is still on track to be built, Gordon Gemma, director of Kushner Cos., said Friday it has changed substantially since the initial approvals. The part of land that was going to hold the Boardwalk was dedicated to the city about a year ago, he said, and the company’s plans did not include Boardwalk improvements.
Similarly, City Council planned to use $23 million of future city and county tax revenue from Revel Entertainment Group’s casino for Boardwalk work in the inlet area, including $3 million to demolish the final blocks, but that was put on hold earlier this year pending the company receiving financing to finish its casino hotel.