By CAROL GORGA WILLIAMS
The construction of the Ocean Grove pier will continue without interruption – with a completion range of sometime in December – after some residents claimed they had been blindsided with details of the pier which is being built in the shape of a cross.
However, Michael Badger, president of the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association, said the design and rendering have been up on the website for years and remains available for public review.. The project is fully funded through private donations – which also were announced as supporters were given the option to make donations for the America’s Treasure campaign.
“The shape of the pier has not been a secret. It has been on the fundraising site since before the 2019 summer.,” Badger said. “See americantreasure.org/why-give/. For over 3 years, the OGCMA has been actively telling the public our plan.
“The ENHANCE segment of the American Treasure fundraising campaign sought to raise $500k over a three- year period for the pier. The OGCMA Board of Trustees authorized the remaining $750K from pre-existing financial reserves to attain the $1.3M.”
While work began after Labor Day, it was just upon that holiday that state Sen. Vin Gopal tweeted that residents had contacted him with concerns.
“Many residents of Ocean Grove have reached out to me concerned about the OGCMA’s potential construction of a cross-shaped pier,” his tweet reads. “I am strongly urging the CMA to meet with residents, hear their concerns (and) construct a pier that will be inclusive of all residents” of Ocean Grove and Neptune Township.”
Some residents thought it was “too religious” for this community founded by Methodists and maintained by a Christian leadership. Others thought it may have been insensitive as a conservative symbol disrespecting the gay and transgender communities, for example.
“We are a welcoming Community,” Badger said. “Sen. Gopal believes it is good for the public to be heard and he is right and we have heard the public. The pier project has secured the appropriate permits from the state Department of Environmental Protection, which oversees coastal projects, among other responsibilities. It acknowledged the design is consistent with the protection of marine ecology.”
Since the Labor Day tweet, Gopal received “an avalanche” of emails and letters from local residents in recent weeks supporting the pier.
“These more recent correspondences came from people who learned through social media that contrary opinions were being sent to the senator,” Badger said.
The design of the new Ocean Grove pier has many practical advantages including more view length, more endpoints, more stability and more locations for emergency services equipment, Badger said. Before 2012, the pier had a private, members-only fishing clubhouse at the farthest end. The high metal fence on the pier blocked the general public, similar to other local piers. The new design resembles the design of the Steeplechase Pier that served for years in Coney Island, NY.
The Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association, a private non-profit Christian organization, raised all the funds.
“While the design is highly functional, the shape of the pier can serve to remind people of the love and forgiveness God has for all people,” Badger said. “The construction is taking place on the beach which is owned by the OGCMA. The big takeaway is that at a cost of $1.3 million and without government funding, the Camp Meeting Association is providing an opportunity for you to walk above the Atlantic Ocean free of charge. The OGCMA welcomes everyone to come.”
The former pier was destroyed 10 years ago during superstorm Sandy. The new project will restore the span to its original length of about 500 feet from the boardwalk.
Badger noted that the new pier will have two stages. The preliminary stage is where the first 400 feet will be made of the same composite planks and style of the boardwalk. The second phase will feature a somewhat higher elevation.The design will allow water to come through and prevent the uplift energy from destroying the pier, said Badger, an engineer by training.
The second stage also will rise up an additional five feet to provide more clearance from the ocean.
Visitors will be able to watch the 50- ton crane drive in the pilings from the beach. And Ralph, the small fisherman with the white beard that serves as the pier’s mascot, will keep his home, officials said.