Boardwalk Into Controversy

Wildwood’s apparent use of rain-forest wood irks environmentalists.

Workers rip out a section of the old Wildwood boardwalk .
Photo by Jen A. Miller.

Visitors to the Wildwoods this summer likely will be pleased to find a new boardwalk underfoot as they stroll past squawking game attendants, beachgoers lined up for a slice of Mack’s pizza, and music blasting from the amusement rides at Mariner’s Landing.

But not everyone is happy about the replacement of 42,000 aging boards from Schellenger to Cedar avenues. Why? Because the town used a Brazililan hardwood called ipê for the decking on the $3.5 million stretch of walkway.

Ipê (pronounced ee-pay) is strong and durable. It can support the weight of emergency vehicles and presumably save replacement costs in the future. And, according to ipê proponents, it naturally resists rot, decay, and insects without the use of chemicals.

But ipê is harvested from rain forests, which has environmentalists up in arms. In 1997, Wildwood pledged not to use rain forest wood on its boardwalk. The plan was to use black locust wood, but officials say the shipment came in damaged. “It arrived in deplorable condition,” says Lou Ferrara, Wildwood’s executive director of economic development. “It was just not usable.”

So the town went with ipê. “It comes from all over the world. It doesn’t just grow in rain forests,” Ferrara contends.

Not so, according to Georgina Shanley, cofounder of Friends of the Rainforest.

“The wood that Wildwood is using doesn’t even have any hint of certification that it was legally logged,” says Shanley of Ocean City. According to Rainforest Relief, which protested the Wildwood project with Shanley’s group, about 80 percent of ipê wood sold in the United States is harvested illegally from rain forests.  “It’s like walking on a coffin,” says Shanley. “It’s the boardwalk of shame.”

Wildwood is not the only New Jersey town to use rain-forest wood for its boardwalks. Atlantic City and Ventnor have also used the wood, and Ocean City planned on using it when the town renovated its boardwalk last year. Instead, Ocean City responded to public pressure and used a mix of ipê and pine.

The Wildwood project is the first phase of a planned ten-year, $30 million to $40 million renovation of the boardwalk, which spans Wildwood and North Wildwood. The project is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and New Jersey’s Urban Enterprise Zone Authority.

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