Avon will keep tropical wood for new boardwalk

Construction worker Angelo Pengue in Avon. Borough officials have said the wood was harvested in a responsible and sustainable manner.
Construction worker Angelo Pengue in Avon. Borough officials have said the wood was harvested in a responsible and sustainable manner. (the wood was harvested in a responsible and sustainable manner.)

An environmentalist boycott is threatened if the recovering Jersey Shore town continues with its plan to use ipe.

Posted: February 27, 2013

AVON, N.J. - This Jersey Shore town, facing the threat of a boycott over its plan to use rain forest wood to rebuild a boardwalk destroyed by Hurricane Sandy, isn't backing down.

Avon, in Monmouth County, says it will stick with its plan to use ipe wood.

At a meeting Monday night, several environmental groups asked the Borough Commission to reconsider but were rebuffed.

"There is a consensus to move ahead," Commissioner Frank Gorman said after hearing nearly two hours of objections from residents and out-of-town environmentalists.

The groups say they will organize a boycott of Avon this summer.

Rainforest Relief executive director Tim Keating said the groups questioned whether the wood was harvested responsibly and in a sustainable manner, as the town has contended.

Environmentalists have said that 766 acres of old-growth tropical rain forest needed to be cut down to rebuild Avon's boardwalk.

"These are forest crimes," Keating said. "The logging of the forests, the vast majority of it is done illegally."

Because Avon expects to get 75 percent of the cost reimbursed by the federal government through Sandy relief funds, Keating said, "every citizen of this country is paying for this boardwalk."

Georgina Shanley, an anti-ipe crusader from Ocean City, helped dissuade her town from using the wood for its boardwalk in 2007.

"Twenty years ago, we made ivory jewelry, until we found out it came from elephants that were slaughtered for their tusks," she said. "What you are doing is contributing to another round of storms through deforestation."

Avon awarded a nearly $1.5 million contract this month to rebuild its boardwalk, which spans a little more than a half-mile between Belmar to the south and Bradley Beach.

"The contract has already been awarded, the wood has been cut and shipped, and it's sitting in a warehouse in North Carolina already, waiting for us," Tim Gallagher, borough administrator, said Monday afternoon.

Of the environmentalists' boycott threats, Gallagher replied, "It's America. Anyone can say anything they want."

Avon's boardwalk project is already a month or two behind some other Jersey Shore towns' because of legal woes, a political dispute, and the environmentalists' protests.

Borough officials have said their contract requires certification that the wood was harvested in a responsible and sustainable manner.

Steven Fenichel of Ocean City said the harvesting of ipe is more destructive than is widely known.

"These are trees, generally one or two per acre, that are 500 to 1,000 years old," he said. "In order to get those two trees, the whole acre has to be clear-cut for the trucks to get these carcasses from the raped rain forest."

Richard Fuller, of the Green Party of Monmouth County also asked the council to use something else.

"Your destruction of the rain forest has undisputed repercussions," he said.

Mayor Robert Mahon said he was told by the borough's engineering consultants that ipe "was the best product for our boardwalk that was available."

Environmental activists say domestic hardwoods, which are plentiful and easily replaceable, or planks made from synthetic materials are preferable for boardwalk projects.

Many coastal towns like the tropical hardwoods for their durability, their strength, and their resistance to rotting in salty environments. But they have encountered the same pressure as Avon.

Ocean City placed an order for ipe in 2007 but canceled amid criticism. It ultimately paid more than $1 million to settle a suit brought by the lumber company.

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