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Christie does ribbon-cutting as Sandy-damaged Ocean Grove boardwalk reopens, 1 1/2 years later

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OCEAN GROVE, N.J. - With the ceremonial reopening of the Ocean Grove boardwalk Thursday morning, most of the Jersey shore's boardwalks are back in business following Superstorm Sandy.

The walkway in the Ocean Grove section of Neptune Township was the final major project to rebuild a boardwalk damaged by the storm, but it was not the last.

Part of Long Branch's storm-wrecked boardwalk won't be repaired until this fall. And the Seaside Park boardwalk, destroyed by a spectacular fire last September, is just about finished and will be connected to the walkway in neighbouring Seaside Heights by this weekend.

Gov. Chris Christie chose the Ocean Grove boardwalk — which will have one last section rebuilt in the fall — to kick off the July 4 weekend and take stock of the shore's recovery from the October 2012 storm.

He said the reconstruction of the walkway represents "a cap on another stage — not the completion — of our recovery from Hurricane Sandy. If you look at where we are today in New Jersey compared to the way we felt on Oct. 29, 2012, we have all done an excellent job."

Dale Whilden, president of the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association, which owns the walkway and the land in Ocean Grove, had been counting the days to recovery.

"It was 613 days ago that Hurricane Sandy destroyed and wreaked such havoc at the Jersey shore," he said. "It has been a long road."

The association, a privately run religious group, got turned down twice by the Federal Emergency Management Agency for repair money before prevailing on the third try. Ocean Grove eventually got $2.36 million for its boardwalk.

Long Branch, whose main oceanfront walkway is an elevated stone structure called the Promenade, still has a mile-long section of wooden boardwalk that was damaged by Sandy and needs to be rebuilt, along with the earthen bluff that supports it. The city received the $14.5 million in funding in January but has yet to agree on a design acceptable to FEMA, meaning the work won't start until fall.

The plan under consideration calls for moving the boardwalk back from the edge of the now-eroded cliff it once sat on, shoring up the bluff and protecting it with some sort of rock or steel wall at its base.

Founded as a Methodist seaside religious retreat just south of Asbury Park, Ocean Grove is listed on the National Register of Historic Places for its widespread Victorian architecture. Centered on a church called the Great Auditorium, it has a population of about 3,300 year-round residents that grows each summer when founding family descendants rent 114 tents on wooden platforms near the auditorium to be close to its religious services. The place that calls itself "God's square mile at the Jersey shore" keeps its beach closed on Sundays until after noon.

Its pier also was damaged in the storm, and FEMA denied reimbursement for that as well. The association is appealing that decision, too.

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Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC

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