Two hundred and ten days — that’s how long it will take to rebuild the city’s boardwalk, which was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy.
In what City Council members described as the most important vote they have ever cast, the city awarded a $44.2 million contract to a Plainview-based company to rebuild the 2.2-mile span, with the hope that some sections may be completed in time for the summer, a critical time for the city’s economy.
The council voted unanimously at a special meeting on April 4 to award the contract to Grace Industries LLC, for a project estimated to cost $42 million. A little more than $2 million, Public Works Commissioner Jim LaCarrubba explained, is included in the agreement to cover any unforeseen costs.
The contract stipulates that the project will be completed in 210 days, and officials say that work on some sections, mainly in the center of town, could begin next week. The contract also calls for portions of the boardwalk — including stretches from National to Laurelton boulevards and National to Long Beach Road — to be completed in about 100 days, said Peter Gerbasi, vice president of the LiRo Group, the engineering firm hired by the city to oversee the project.
“Our expectation is for substantial portions of the boardwalk to be built within the first 100 days,” said Gerbasi. “I would expect that you would start to see work … in 30 to 45 days.”
LaCarrubba said that the contract is aimed at keeping the project’s completion date on track, and includes a built-in labor agreement with the city and Nassau County building trade unions and contractors. There is a 12-hours-a-day, six-days-a-week work schedule, and two crews, with a total of approximately 120 workers, are expected to be working on the project at any given time.
A groundbreaking date has yet to be determined, since Grace Industries still has to obtain the necessary building materials and provide the city with insurance and other documents, among other preliminary work. Officials said that the city and LiRo would monitor the construction work and hold Grace Industries to a tight timeline. LaCarrubba said that there may be limited access to the beach in areas where there is construction, and that the city would open sections of the boardwalk as they are completed.
Grace, a subsidiary of the Haugland Group LLC, was the second-lowest of six bidders, whose bids ranged from $40 million to $65 million. LaCarrubba and Gerbasi said that the company has solid references. It has worked on projects for the New York state and city departments of transportation, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and Nassau and Suffolk counties, include large-scale highway, bridge, airport and drainage construction.
A number of residents asked about the project’s price, saying that it is substantially higher than the cost of other boardwalk projects in the works along the East Coast in the aftermath of Sandy. The city had initially said that the cost to rebuild the boardwalk would be $25 million.
But the project now includes stronger materials to prevent damage from future storms. City officials are hoping that the Federal Emergency Management Agency will pay for the rebuild, saying that FEMA’s hazard mitigation program could provide additional funding under the Stafford Act, which helps states and localities implement long-term damage-prevention measures after major disasters.
The new boardwalk will feature a low-maintenance tropical hardwood that has a 30- to 40-year lifespan. A wooden span with concrete edges will be built from National Boulevard to Long Beach Road, and the walkway’s eastern and western sections will be all wood.
Builders will use 2x6 boards instead of the previous 2x4s, laid out east-west, in contrast to the north-south design of the old boardwalk, with 1/8-inch gaps between them. Officials have said this will reduce vibrations for bikes, strollers and wheelchairs. The design also includes aluminum pipe railing and antique light poles and fixtures. The height of the structure will remain the same, 17 feet above sea level, and beneath it, a wave break wall will be built — at a cost of $6 million — to prevent the kind of extensive damage that Hurricane Sandy caused.
Some residents said that if FEMA doesn’t cover the cost of the rebuild, the cash-strapped city and its taxpayers could be on the hook. “I have real concern … that we may be doing it too soon, before we have answers,” resident Matthew Dwyer told the council. “I don’t want to be stuck with a bill because we’ve been hasty.”
“We have no answers whatsoever from FEMA, and that’s very scary,” added resident Eileen Hession. “Our taxes have already gone up several times this year. Please think carefully before you decide on $44 million.”
City Manager Jack Schnirman said that although the city is holding the project to an “aggressive” timeline, the city has been in talks with FEMA, and held a meeting with the agency on April 4 to discuss “using the Stafford Act to lay out money in advance so the city would not have to do that. We’re moving the ball forward.”
LaCarrubba said the city is hopeful that, with the help of FEMA, community development block grants, public assistance grants and other funding, most if not all of the project’s costs will be covered. Still, he said, the city might have to assume a portion of the cost.
“FEMA will never give you a 100 percent affirmation on anything — they don’t like to give you anything until they see work commence,” LaCarrubba said. “We’ve had good conversations with them, and we’re moving forward in a very positive direction.”
Councilman John McLaughlin said that while the city might be responsible for some of the “mind-boggling” costs of the project, the boardwalk is the city’s most important asset. “It’s vital to the city,” he said.
“The boardwalk is the spirit of not only Long Beach, but Nassau County,” said Councilman Len Torres. “This is perhaps one of the most important votes we can set forth.”