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The iconic boardwalk where generations of families and teens got their first taste of the Jersey shore — and where the reality show of the same name was filmed — is about to be rebuilt following its destruction in Sandy.
Seaside Heights awarded a $3.6 million contract Wednesday night to have the boardwalk rebuilt in time for Memorial Day weekend.
One of the most popular and heavily used boardwalks at the Jersey shore, the Seaside Heights walkway was destroyed in the Oct. 29 storm. Officials say it is the centerpiece of the borough's tourist industry, which funds 75 percent of its budget.
"A lot of people love Seaside and want to see what's happening this year," Mayor William Akers said. "If they don't come back, we don't eat."
Florence Birban, a 47-year resident, said the boardwalk means a lot to homeowners.
"We need a boardwalk here to bring in the revenue and keep our taxes from going up, hopefully," she said. "It just looks wrong without a boardwalk. I look up the street and I don't see one, and it's not right."
The work should be done by May 10.
The contract just covers replacement of the boards and the substructure beneath it. Akers said a future contract will include ramps, railings and a protective sea wall.
Borough Administrator John Camera said the entire length of the mile-long boardwalk will be rebuilt.
That was good news for Sue Poane, another longtime resident concerned about the town's financial future, as well as its quality of life.
"We need the people to spend their money here; we need the boardwalk back for the businesses," she said. "My husband and I walk the boardwalk every Sunday afternoon. We have our supper at our special place — they have the best seafood in the world! — and then we sit and people-watch."
Seaside Heights is the second major boardwalk to see rebuilding begin; Belmar started work on its walkway last week. Spring Lake has also started fixing its boardwalk, as has Point Pleasant Beach.
Thus far in Seaside Heights, there is no plan yet to remove the remains of the Jet Star roller coaster from the ocean, where it sits after plunging off a collapsing pier during the storm. The coaster's private owners are negotiating with insurers over how and when a salvage operation will be carried out.
But town officials are anxious to have it removed; last week a man sailed a small boat to the coaster, climbed to the top of it and affixed a flag to the top before being talked down and arrested by police. Officials and some residents are worried about liability for the coaster if someone is injured on or near it. The beachfront remains off-limits and is guarded by police and State Troopers.