Long Branch City officials are now estimating that work on the reconstruction of the city's boardwalk after it was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy may not begin until next spring or early summer, at the earliest.
"As far as nailing the first nail, I would say a minimum of 18 months," Long Branch Police Sgt. Charles Shirley, who also works with the city office of emergency management, said.
Shirley said FEMA is just now asking the city for its bills for damages including debris removal, emergency measures and parks and recreation; the category the boardwalk falls under.
Shirley said City Engineer Jerry Freda has already put together an estimate on what the boardwalk would cost to rebuild as it was, but that the cost is not yet finalized.
Getting that final number is the first of three steps needed to apply for funding from FEMA to aid in the reconstruction of the boardwalk.
"Our starting number is from Freda, to rebuild it as was, from that a percentage will come out and FEMA will say 'we're offering whatever your number is, plus 50 percent of that number to harden it, that's the most you can apply for,'," Shirley said. "It's a percentage, not a fixed rate, so we have to make sure that first number is right."
Shirley said hardening is the term used by FEMA to define what towns are doing to make their structures stronger and more storm resistant.
"Hardening can be pulling out all the pilings and raising it 2 feet, putting concrete in front of it, or it could be bluff creation" he said. "There's a million different things we can do, but that's a design thing that we will talk about later."
Shirley added that because the city is considering raising its boardwalk, that all the bathhouses along it would have to come down and be reconstructed. Doing so is another cost that must be submitted to FEMA, because it is reimbursable funds.
He said the third step is to include any alterations the city would like to include for the boardwalk, such as widening it, to FEMA. Any alterations would be included in the final design phase and would be an additional cost to the city.
Shirley said this is a lengthy process and that it is the reason for the 18-month time frame for construction to begin.
Some councilmembers asked why Belmar is ready to start rebuilding its boardwalk this week.
"Belmar's governing body has made some decisions and they are building back to its original condition," Shirley said. "I wouldn't advise that for you guys."
City Business Administrator Howard Woolley said the change Belmar is making is putting in 20-foot pilings to replace the 8-foot pilings it originally used for its boardwalk.
Shirley and other officials have said the city will definitely be making significant changes to its boardwalk.
"One of the things we saw that works while being at ground zero when this was all going on, was that the hydraulic pressure had to be relieved, so if the boards are above the roadway, the water will flush up and through it and be able to come back and relieve it," Shirley said. "Otherwise where it connected, it just lifted the boardwalk."
"It's what happened here and it's what happened everywhere, so if we were to build it back to that same height, I don't care what you patch it with, it will get ripped off again," he added. "We need to create some gaps and create more height."
Councilman John Pallone asked once construction begins how long it would take to complete.
Shirley and Woolley said it all depends on the design choices the city makes and that there is no estimate at this time.
"The mayor has directed me to get some professionals to take a look at it and they are going to come up with ideas for (the council) to look at, talk about and select from," Woolley said. "There's not going to be any one answer, there will probably be several and with several different price tags attached."
Woolley said the city will likely have take some money out of its budget to get the project moving before FEMA can reimburse the city.