AVON, N.J. – Environmental groups say they'll launch a boycott drive against a Jersey shore town that refuses to back off its plan to use tropical rainforest wood to rebuild a boardwalk destroyed by Superstorm Sandy.
The 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 plan.
Activists on Monday called on the small shore town of Avon to use something other than ipe (pronounced EE'-pay) to rebuild the boardwalk destroyed by the October storm but were rejected.
"There is a consensus to move ahead," said Commissioner Frank Gorman after hearing nearly two hours of objections from residents and out-of-town environmentalists.
Tim Keating, director of Rainforest Relief, urged the Borough Commission to reconsider its plan to use the old-growth forest wood.
"These are forest crimes," he said. "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 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 rainforest."
Richard Fuller, of the Green Party of Monmouth County, also asked the council to use something else.
"Your destruction of the rainforest 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.
Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC