AVON, N.J. - Many Jersey Shore towns pummeled by Hurricane Sandy have been racing to rebuild their beachfronts and boardwalks for the summer season.
But things have not gone so smoothly in this Monmouth County town.
Unlike its next-door neighbor, Belmar, which already has rebuilt nearly half its boardwalk, Avon is lagging, dogged by its on-again, off-again handling of a deal to rebuild a boardwalk restaurant, a court injunction over an eighth-of-an-inch difference in the size of boards between one company's bid and another's, and a protest by environmentalists over the town's plan to use rain-forest wood to rebuild the walkway.
The result is a race to the finish line that has borough officials and residents nervously counting the days until summer crowds again flock to the Shore.
Avon awarded a contract for just under $1.5 million last week to rebuild the walkway; work could start next week.
"It's disappointing," said Danielle Magrini, a resident out walking her dog on the beach because there was no boardwalk to stroll on.
"I don't think we're going to be ready," added her husband, Mike. "We're already in mid-February. I just don't see it happening."
Mayor Robert Mahon is cautiously optimistic that despite the delays, Avon's boardwalk will be ready by Memorial Day. "The boardwalk will be there," he said. "It's going to be close."
The trouble began in early January, when Avon sought bids for the reconstruction of its six-tenths-of-a-mile boardwalk, which, like many walkways in the region, was destroyed by the Oct. 29 storm.
After Avon awarded a contract to one firm, a competitor took Avon to court, saying the bid process was flawed. After the town issued its specifications, several companies called to ask if they could use a different thickness of wood, a one-inch board instead of the seven-eighths-of-an-inch called for in the specifications.
Avon issued a clarification saying either size was acceptable. One of the firms sued, and Avon decided to reject all the bids and start over. That cost it between two and three weeks.
Soon afterward, another controversy arose over the reconstruction of the Avon Pavilion, a restaurant and shop that has been a fixture for decades. Citing damage from the storm, Avon officials voted to terminate the pavilion's lease. Officials said they were obligated by state law to do so after a catastrophic storm.
The businessman who had leased the pavilion for the 23 years - whose lease still had 13 years left - threatened to sue the borough, and residents rallied to his side. Finally, Avon agreed to a shorter lease - 10 years - with the same operator.
But Avon's boardwalk woes still weren't over. Its bid specifications called for ipe, a type of tropical rain forest hardwood that is popular for boardwalks because of its durability, but controversial because of the effects of logging on Amazon rain forests. A dispute over use of ipe cost Ocean City nearly $1 million in damages when it ordered, then canceled, a ipe shipment for its boardwalk in 2007.
Belmar also had planned to use ipe in its boardwalk reconstruction, but backed off after an environmental group, Friends of the Rainforest, threatened a lawsuit. Environmentalists are threatening to sue Avon to keep it from using the tropical wood, but have not acted.
Mahon has his fingers crossed that the boardwalk will be ready for the summer crowds. The current construction schedule would have it done by mid-May, but bad weather or other unavoidable factors could cause further delays.