One of the Jersey shore's most popular beach towns is moving swiftly to rebuild its boardwalk that was destroyed by Sandy.
Belmar approved a $20 million spending plan Monday night to pay for a new boardwalk, as well as some of the cost of cleaning up the ruins of the old one.
The Monmouth County community is also considering building a sea wall to help protect against future storms.
The borough's plans are the most ambitious of any that have come to a vote since the October storm devastated many Jersey shore communities.
"Our boardwalk got annihilated by Superstorm Sandy," said Mayor Matthew Doherty. "We want to be the first in the race to get things started for the summer."
He said there was never any question that Belmar would rebuild the boardwalk, which he described as an integral part of the community's identity.
"Belmar's name is French for 'the beautiful sea,'" he said. "It's part of who we are.
Doherty said the Federal Emergency Management Agency should pay for at least 75 percent of the cost of the boardwalk repairs, and said New Jersey's Congressional delegation is working to have the agency approve a 90 percent reimbursement rate.
To help pay for the borough's share of the cost, Belmar will help pay for the work by increasing daily beach badge fees from $7 to $8, and seasonal fees from $50 to $55.
That proposal runs counter to legislation being pushed by a Republican state senator and the Democratic state senate president. Senator Michael J. Doherty and Senate President Stephen M. Sweeney have introduced legislation that would require municipalities that accept state or federal aid to rebuild storm-damaged beaches to provide beach access and beach restroom facilities to the public free of charge.
Doherty said the boardwalk is essential not only to preserving a way of life in Belmar, but also to keeping small businesses open.
"Without tourism for even one summer, the businesses here will suffer tremendously," Doherty said. "It would be like working for a year but making no salary."
Marianne Piro said the boardwalk needs to be rebuilt.
"I've been here since I was a child, and my grandparents have been here since 1918," she said. "I walk this boardwalk. We need to have it here."
Belmar sent out a request for bids on Friday to companies interested in doing the work. The mayor said he hoped work could start by the end of the year, and predicted a new boardwalk will be in place before Memorial Day.
Doherty also said Belmar is looking into building a steel sea wall along the coast to help lessen the damage from future storms. It would consist of 4-foot-tall steel panels that would be plowed over with sand, and dunes planted atop them.
Both the sea wall and the higher beach badge fees will be voted on at a future meeting.