Environmentalists Threaten Tourism Boycott of Sandy-Ravaged NJ Shore Town

Environmental groups say they plan a tourist season boycott of a NJ shore town this summer over its choice to use a tropical hardwood to replace the town’s boardwalk, which was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy last October. 

Avon by the Sea, one of many shore towns across the state that was devastated by Hurricane Sandy, had already placed the order for ipe, a tropical hardwood preferable in salt-water environments, before environmentalists stepped in, according to the AP / Boston Herald:

“But Avon administrator Tim Gallagher says the town has already paid for the
wood, which was cut and shipped to a warehouse in North Carolina and
awaits transportation to Jersey.”

Like so many other shore towns in NJ, Avon relies heavily on tourism to support its local economy.  While damage estimates for the entire state of NJ stood at about $37 billion, the impact from debris damage alone is estimated to have a significant impact on tourism in shore towns this summer.

Environmentalists have placed similar pressure on other shore towns in NJ as well.  Ocean City, which ultimately canceled an order it had placed for ipe product, suffered significant monetary impacts for that decision when it was forced to shell out $1 million to the supplier over a legal dispute.

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 that are plentiful and easily replaceable, or planks made from synthetic materials, are preferable for boardwalk projects.

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

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

Avon officials familiar with the contract indicate that it “requires certification that the wood was harvested in a responsible and sustainable manner.”

Nonetheless, environmentalists say they have ‘questions’ as to whether or not that requirement was fulfilled.  And the rhetoric from those who oppose the choice of ipe as the replacement product for Avon’s boardwalk has been rather…colorful.

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

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

“Avon is a small family town and mostly families with their children go
there,” Shanley said. “But even kindergarteners know we shouldn’t be
destroying the rainforests.”

Given that the wood has already been paid for, cut, and sits in a warehouse ready to be shipped, the reality is that environmentalists accomplish nothing practical by threatening a tourism boycott.  They’re not stopping the wood from being cut down or purchased.  So, the obvious question becomes, what are these environmentalist groups really trying to accomplish here?

I suspect some of the answer might be found in their earlier opposition to rebuilding at all in NJ shore towns.