U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer and city officials are calling on the Federal Emergency Management Agency to expedite funding for a plan to rebuild the iconic Long Beach boardwalk with stronger materials to protect against future storms.
At a press conference at National Boulevard beach on Monday, City Manager Jack Schnirman, Assemblyman Harvey Weisenberg and members of the City Council joined Schumer, who pointed to the exposed concrete stanchions that once held the boardwalk, which has since been removed after it was badly damaged during Hurricane Sandy.
“During the storm, over two miles of boardwalk was destroyed by the high-winds and crashing waves,” Schumer said. “The boardwalk is much more than planks of wood — it represents the spirit of the Long Beach community. The boardwalk at Long Beach is a symbol of Long Island. It’s going to be a symbol of Long Island, New York’s and Long Beach’s revitalization when it gets built again.”
The estimated cost to rebuild the boardwalk is $25 million. But as the city attempts to rebuild the structure with more durable materials, those costs could be higher. Under the plan, Schumer said FEMA would provide funding to rebuild the destroyed boardwalk with better materials, such as more resilient wood and special concrete. Typically, Schumer said that FEMA only provides funding for municipalities to rebuild public structures with the same specifications as the original structure.
“In some cases it makes sense, they’re trying to preserve those from rebuilding with gold plating things,” Schumer said. “You certainly don’t want a locality to sort of build the Taj Mahal where there was a little public bathroom.”
In cash-strapped Long Beach, the city would be forced to borrow the money to rebuild the boardwalk as it were and wait for a reimbursement from FEMA. However, Schumer said that FEMA’s hazard mitigation program could provide additional funding “up front” under Section 406 of the Stafford Act, the federal disaster law that helps states and localities implement long-term measures after a major disaster.
“We want to rebuild [the boardwalk] to be storm resistant,” said Schumer. “It would be fiscal malpractice to simply force the city to rebuild the boardwalk as it was, instead of investing somewhat more in a structure that will better stand the test of time."
Monday’s announcement comes on the heels of a series of public forums held by the city and Sustainable Long Island to gather residents’ input on how to rebuild the boardwalk. In a recent survey involving 2,350 people in Long Beach, 88 percent cited “durability and resistance to future storms” as the most important aspect in rebuilding the boardwalk.
“The boardwalk as it existed is impractical for today’s purposes,” said City Council President Scott Mandel. “We need to rebuild stronger … in order to do that, we need to change the materials that we’ve used, and the city has responded and asked us to changed the materials that we’ve used. Unfortunately, those materials cost money.”
Instead of rebuilding the boardwalk with the same chemically treated southern yellow pine, which Schumer said only lasts about four- to-seven-years, he called for rebuilding the structure with tropical hardwood and other materials, citing the Atlantic City, N.J. boardwalk as a model of durability during Sandy.
“We shouldn’t use this wood again,” Schumer said. “FEMA should pay for the stronger, tougher materials, even if they cost a little more. The boardwalk is the heart of Long Beach; it’s a major tourist attraction; residents love to walk on it; businesses rely on it to survive; so it only makes sense to rebuild it so that we’re not going to go through this process 10, or 15, or 20-years from now.”
City Manager Jack Schnirman said after the conference that the city’s engineering firm, the LiRo Group, is using the input gathered during the focus groups to create design specifications for a new, stronger boardwalk. He said that it was premature to say exactly what materials LiRo would include in its designs.
City officials held a meeting with FEMA officials on Tuesday, and Schnirman said that he hopes the funding will be approved.