Belmar awarded a $6.6 million contract this week to a company to provide ipe (EE'-pay) wood for the project. Plans to resume use of that species of tropical hardwood on the Ocean City boardwalk in 2007 touched off a furor that led to the city canceling its order and paying nearly $1 million in damages to a lumber company.
Mayor Matthew Doherty says Belmar will only use ipe if it is harvested from a sustainable source. But environmentalists say there is no such thing as sustainable logging in the Amazon or other endangered rain forests.
Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, wrote to Doherty on Friday to urge Belmar not to use ipe.
"As a community that has suffered catastrophic impacts from storm surge and sea level rise, Belmar should be concerned about the impacts of global climate change and the impacts from severe weather," Tittel wrote. "Clear-cutting rainforests in the Amazon should not be promoted by a community as environmentally conscience as Belmar. There is no sustainable way to harvest ipe."
Ipe has proven popular with coastal communities who use it in their boardwalks. It looks good, lasts for decades and can support the weight of a police car or fire engine, not to mention thousands of people.
But the trend is upsetting environmentalists, who favor boardwalks made with synthetic materials or wood from trees that didn't grow in endangered areas. They fear that in the rush to rebuild damaged boardwalks—and there are many along the Jersey shore—towns will cast environmental concerns aside.
"We never learn, do we?" asked Georgina Shanley, a leader of Friends of the Rainforest, an Ocean City group that helped undo that southern New Jersey community's plan to use ipe for boardwalk reconstruction five years ago. The town ordered $1.2 million worth of wood that was advertised to be certified as having been harvested responsibly, but then canceled the order amid a furor from environmentalists around the world. It had to pay nearly $1 million to settle a lawsuit brought by the lumber company that cut the wood and had begun shipping it to New Jersey.
New York City has decreed that all new boardwalks will be made of something other than wood, preferably concrete.
Belmar's old boardwalk was made from synthetic materials.
It hopes to have a new walkway in place by May 1.