Battered by Sandy, Ocean Grove Boardwalk Finally Returns

A year-and-a-half and multiple appeals to FEMA later, one Jersey Shore town is finally getting its heart and soul back.

In the immediate aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, even as millions of dollars in donations poured in for her victims, I said that things were going to get a whole lot worse before they got better.

The Ocean Grove boardwalk is an example of that.

Ocean Grove is a small town in New Jersey’s northern beaches between Asbury Park and Avon by the Sea. Ocean Grove calls itself “God’s Square Mile at the Jersey Shore.” The town can get away with putting church and state together because the town is owned by the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association. If you buy a home in Ocean Grove, you don’t own the land. You’re signing a lease with OGCMA, most of which have terms of “99 years in perpetuity.” They own the beaches, too, which is why they’re closed on Sunday morning. (Side note: Despite their religious bent, you can still BYOB in Ocean Grove while the practice is still banned in Ocean City.)

During Superstorm Sandy, Ocean Grove lost a chunk of its fishing pier, and its boardwalk was destroyed.

Ocean Grove, like many distressed Jersey Shore towns, applied for $1 million in aid from FEMA to rebuild its boardwalk.

The answer? No.

FEMA’s reasoning was that the Ocean Grove is a nonprofit group, and FEMA doesn’t give money to repair recreational facilities owned by nonprofits.

This wasn’t entirely surprising since their application for $150,000 after Hurricane Irene was also denied for the same reason — but what they had sought then was to repair damage to the fishing pier, not the boardwalk.

Ocean Grove appealed the decision. Again, the answer was no. So for Summer 2013, the Jersey Strong message limped on in Ocean Grove but without a boardwalk.

Ocean Grove appealed the decision yet again, arguing that the boardwalk was more than just a recreational spot. In January, FEMA relented. Two portions of the Ocean Grove boardwalk are already done and open, and the entire thing will re-open with a ribbon cutting ceremony on July 6th, according to OGCMA.

While I understand FEMA’s initial decision, I got the position — and the pain — of residents, too. A good friend of mine lives there, and every time I’ve visited, no matter what time of year, we always went to the boardwalk. It’s not like the boardwalks we’re most familiar with — that feature rides and strips of shops and restaurants and neon and ice cream spots — but more of a promenade for the town, a quiet place for reflection on your way to the water or from which to look at the water. After Sandy, my friend and I still went and looked at what remained. It’s the spine of the town, and I’m relieved they’re getting it back.

More than a year and a half after Sandy, this is far from over. We still face big decisions like how or even if some areas should try to recover. The tide has not receded for a lot of people, from homeowners still refusing to allow dunes built in front of their homes, to businesses still waiting for insurance checks, to the Ocean Grove boardwalk, finally catching up after being caught up in reams of red tape.

Jen A. Miller will be covering the Jersey Shore for Philadelphia magazine this summer. Follow @byJenAMiller on Twitter.