Seaside Heights, N.J. was already famous for its boardwalk even before the show “Jersey Shore” made it infamous. According to Mayor Bill Akers, as many as 40,000 people come out to visit the tourist attraction on holiday weekends during the warmer months. The dollars spent by these visitors provide the town of 3,000 people with more than 65 percent of its annual revenue, and without them the town is in trouble.
Sidd & Associates drillers were driving pilings for the new boardwalk down at least 20 feet. Source: Sidd & Associates

Hurricane Sandy devastated the East Coast in October 2012 and destroyed homes and communities, including the landmark boardwalk in Seaside Heights. It was the largest Atlantic hurricane ever, causing more than $75 billion in damages. The town was devastated when their boardwalk was destroyed.

When tourism is such a major part of your town’s revenue, there’s no time to waste after Mother Nature wreaks her havoc. The borough of Seaside Heights immediately started making plans to rebuild the boardwalk. Now they’re racing against time trying to get it all done in time for the 2013 summer season, which is proving to be no small feat.

After the borough opened bidding for the project, the bids ranged from $3 million to $7.9 million. Some of the lowest bidders were disqualified for not meeting the engineering criteria. New Jersey family-owned firm Sidd & Associates ultimately won with a $3.6 million bid.

“Price isn’t always the most reliable indicator of how well a company will do,” said Akers. “We have to be fair to all companies so that we’re not showing favoritism to people we know and like, and regardless of how much a company charges, the end result is still an unknown no matter how much they charge.”

Winning the project meant a lot to Jay Siddiqui, president of Sidd & Associates. “This boardwalk has a lot of sentimental value to us,” Siddiqui said. “We’ve lived in New Jersey for almost 27 years and I have great memories of taking my kids to the boardwalk when they were little.”

Although Sidd & Associates has a long history of working on other construction projects, Siddiqui admits that this is his first boardwalk project because few municipalities are building boardwalks anymore.

The contract to rebuild the boardwalk has personal meaning to Siddiqui’s firm, but the deadline pressure means his firm’s reputation is on the line. The borough has given the company a strict deadline to finish the project by May 10, under threat of $7,500 fines for each additional day past that date it remains unfinished. Come hell or high water, Seaside Heights wants to ensure the boardwalk will be operational before the Memorial Day holiday weekend.

Sidd & Associates is working eight to 10 hours a day, five days per week, at the time of this writing and says they’re currently on schedule to complete it on time. However, there are still many variables outside of their control. “The borough decided they wanted 40 percent more piles, but they didn’t change the time frame,” said Siddiqui. “So we went from having to do 100 piles (a day) in 100 days, to now having to do 140 piles (a day) in the same 100 days. It’s a real challenge.” Sidd & Associates is completing about 60 feet of the mile-long boardwalk each day.

In addition, Sidd & Associates is at the mercy of suppliers, most of whom weren’t recently producing anywhere close to enough materials. “The factories were maybe building 10 a year before, so now they have to ramp up and add extra [production] shifts just to meet demand,” he said.

“Making a boardwalk itself is very simple. You have wood, screws, etc. But it requires a very specific type of wood for boardwalks only. Because nobody makes boardwalks anymore, they don’t keep supplies in stock. They make the wood for us as we order it, and that takes them a lot of time. Every time the city tells us to change something, we have to order more and wait again,” Siddiqui said.

Preparing the wood for the boardwalk is a multi-step process. “First they cut the wood, then treat it, then dry it. In each step it has to be shipped from one location to another, like from Virginia to North Carolina then back to us in New Jersey. So just getting the wood to start building the boardwalk is a slow process,” he said.

Sidd & Associates is discovering that costs are just as variable as the time involved in getting supplies. Many aspects of the project are proving to be much more expensive than initially expected, including the cost of increased pilings and stronger reinforcements. The dual challenges of meeting time and budget constraints are stressful.

From the borough’s perspective, rebuilding the boardwalk is an opportunity to make things right. “The original boardwalk is 60 to 70 years old. We’re maintaining the original herringbone pattern from the old boardwalk because that was very important to us,” Akers said. “But this time we’re going to make it much stronger. We wanted the structure to be more stable. It costs more, but we hope it will be worth it.”

The new structure will have 25-foot pilings driven to 20 feet or more. The old boardwalk only went 10 feet down. They’re also making them closer together to make a stronger structure. “We went from 10-feet spacings to six or seven feet between pilings,” Akers said. “We’re also attaching girders, stainless steel lag straps and are using hurricane bolts instead of screws.”

The borough also plans to include railings, ramps and a new 16- to 18-foot high seawall on the east side to protect it against a possible future storm surge. Bidding for this project has not yet opened, but Sidd & Associates again plans to throw their hat into the ring.

Although Akers said that the Department of Environmental Protection won’t usually approve projects that have too large of an environmental impact, they’ve cooperated with the boardwalk plans. “You know that if someone wanted to build a whole new boardwalk today, they would probably never be allowed to do so. But they’ve really worked with us because they understood how important it was to our community. They said that what we had before, we could have again.”

Sidd & Associates is in daily contact with the borough administrators, providing constant updates on the project’s status. Yet, while Sidd & Associates is working to complete the project on time, it’s ironic that the crazy weather that destroyed the boardwalk may also delay its repair. “This is the time of year where the weather is iffy,” Akers said. “In fact, a Nor’easter just came through here last night. Mother Nature could definitely slow us down, so we hope she’ll go easy on us now.”

“We built our town on this boardwalk. It’s our lifeline, the backbone of our community.” Akers said. “Our community needs the people who come out every year and we plan to be ready for them.”

“It’s like building your backyard,” Siddiqui said. “Every time you see it, you want to be proud of it. That motivates us to do a great job and get it done.”