Boycott eyed if NJ boardwalk uses rainforest wood


AVON, N.J. (AP) — A New Jersey shore town facing the threat of a boycott over its plan to use rainforest wood to rebuild a boardwalk destroyed by Superstorm Sandy isn't backing down.

Avon says it will stick with its plan to use ipe (EE'-pay) wood.

Several environmental groups asked the borough council to reconsider at a meeting Monday but were rejected. They now plan to organize a boycott of Avon this summer.

Rainforest Relief executive director Tim Keating says there are real questions about whether the wood was harvested responsibly and in a sustainable manner.

But Avon administrator Tim Gallagher says the town has already paid for the wood, which was cut and shipped to a warehouse in North Carolina and awaits transportation to Jersey.

The October superstorm is Jersey's worst natural disaster.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.

Environmental groups calculate that 766 acres of old-growth tropical rainforest needed to be cut down to provide materials to rebuild just one small storm-damaged boardwalk at the Jersey shore, and they're promising a tourist season boycott if the town goes through with its plans.

Activists are calling on the small shore town of Avon to use something other than ipe (pronounced EE'-pay) to rebuild the boardwalk destroyed by Superstorm Sandy in October.

"These are forest crimes," said Tim Keating, director of Rainforest Relief. "The logging of the forests, the vast majority of it is done illegally."

Because Avon expects to get 75 percent of the cost reimbursed by the federal government through Sandy relief funds, Keating said, "Every citizen of this country is paying for this boardwalk."

Georgina Shanley, an anti-ipe crusader from Ocean City, helped dissuade her town from using the wood for its boardwalk in 2007.

"Twenty years ago, we made ivory jewelry, until we found out it came from elephants that were slaughtered for their tusks," she said. "What you are doing is contributing to another round of storms through deforestation."

The groups asked the Borough Commission to reverse its decision at a meeting Monday night. The commission awarded a nearly $1.5 million contract earlier this month to rebuild its boardwalk, which spans a little more than half a mile between Belmar to the south and Bradley Beach to the north.

That decision has already been irrevocably made, Avon administrator Timothy Gallagher said Monday afternoon.

"The contract has already been awarded, the wood has been cut and shipped, and it's sitting in a warehouse in North Carolina already, waiting for us," he said.

Of the environmentalists' boycott threats, Gallagher replied, "It's America. Anyone can say anything they want."

Avon's boardwalk project is already a month or two behind some other Jersey shore towns due to a combination of legal woes, a political dispute and protests from environmentalists over its plans to use ipe.

Avon officials have said their contract requires certification that the wood was harvested in a responsible and sustainable manner.

But Keating said there are real questions about whether the wood was harvested responsibly. Even the most widely accepted certification, issued by the Forest Stewardship Council, has divided environmentalists.

Steven Fenichel, of Ocean City, said the harvesting of ipe is more destructive than is widely known.

"These are trees, generally one or two per acre, that are 500 to 1,000 years old," he said. "In order to get those two trees, the whole acre has to be clear-cut for the trucks to get these carcasses from the raped rain forest."

Richard Fuller, of the Green Party of Monmouth County, also asked the council to use something else.

"Your destruction of the rain forest has undisputed repercussions," he said.

Mayor Robert Mahon said he was told by the borough's engineering consultants that ipe "was the best product for our boardwalk that was available."

Environmental activists say domestic hardwoods that are plentiful and easily replaceable, or planks made from synthetic materials, are preferable for boardwalk projects.

Many coastal towns, including Avon, like the tropical hardwoods for their durability, their strength and their resistance to rotting in salty environments. But they've encountered the same pressure as Avon.

Ocean City placed an order for ipe in 2007 but canceled amid a buzz saw of criticism. It ultimately paid more than $1 million to settle a suit brought by the lumber company.

"Avon is a small family town and mostly families with their children go there," Shanley said. "But even kindergarteners know we shouldn't be destroying the rainforests."


Wayne Parry can be reached at