Christie Jersey Shore Rebound Belied as Marinas Struggle

At Great Bay Marina in New Jersey’s Little Egg Harbor, there’ll be no calls for hamburgers in the restaurant and few revving motors will drown out seabirds’ cries this holiday weekend, usually one of the year’s busiest.

Seven months after Hurricane Sandy did at least $500,000 in damage to the marina a half-hour drive north of Atlantic City, more than 100 of 139 boat slips still need to be replaced. Owner Tom Paxton hopes the docks, along with his restaurant and bait-and-tackle shop, will fully reopen by the end of June.

As Governor Chris Christie this week marks the restoration of beachfront boardwalks and stars in a $25 million advertising drive to assure visitors that the Jersey Shore is ready for them, Paxton, 64, says the recovery has bypassed him. He has received little from insurance, and he and his wife have wiped out their $102,000 retirement account to pay for rebuilding.

“They keep saying the Jersey Shore is open for business, but that’s only the boardwalk, that’s all they seem to really care about,” said Paxton, who has owned the marina since 1973. His employees are his wife, daughter and son-in-law. “The little guys like us just get swept away.”

Sandy, the biggest Atlantic storm on record, left many New Jersey marinas damaged and some owners say their insurance won’t cover it all. They’re also handling fewer customers as people focus on wrecked homes before their watercraft.

Family Businesses

Most boatyards are “mom-and-pop” operations with fewer than 15 employees, often handed down in the family, said Melissa Danko, executive director of the Marine Trades Association of New Jersey. The struggle to recover threatens the state boating industry, which the National Marine Manufacturers Association has said generates $2.2 billion a year in economic activity.

“These businesses are unique -- they’re not businesses that can relocate,” Danko said by telephone from Manasquan. “There is definitely some uncertainty if they can stay in business.”

Christie, a first-term Republican who is seeking a second in November, has said the state’s recovery from the Oct. 29 storm will determine whether he wins re-election.

The governor told reporters in the shore town of Belmar on May 22 that his current focus is drawing tourists’ attention to the open boardwalks, the gateways to beachfront arcades, pizza parlors and saltwater-taffy shops. New Jersey’s travel and tourism industry employs more than 500,000 workers, or about 10 percent of all jobs in the state, according to his office.

Boardwalk Business

“Boardwalks are opening all over New Jersey, and I’m going to try to be at every one of them,” Christie said. “We need to make sure that we rebuild the tourism industry in this state, at the Jersey Shore, now.”

Sandy victims have so far received $3.5 billion from the National Flood Insurance Program, while the U.S. Small Business Administration loaned $776 million to homeowners, renters and businesses, according to information from Christie’s office.

Marina owners say that while their flood insurance covers buildings, the policies generally exclude docks, fuel pumps and other boating necessities.

Fred Brueggemann, owner of Key Harbor Marina in Waretown, north of Little Egg Harbor, said by telephone that he thought his fencing and fuel pumps were insured. Instead, he learned those items were excluded in the event of flooding, a caveat that was “hidden” in the policy.

90% Uncovered

“You think you’re covered for something and you’re really not,” said Brueggemann, 51. He said his policy will cover roughly 10 percent of about $1 million in damage done by Sandy.

Others are borrowing to rebuild. Roy and Gail Voss, owners of Good Luck Point Marina in nearby Bayville, are tapping a $150,000 bank credit line they had secured before the storm. It cost more than $20,000 to remove 100 tons of debris, including pieces of Barnegat Bay homes swept in by the wind and waves.

Applying for a Small Business Administration loan is a cumbersome process with daunting paperwork, said Paxton and Brueggemann. “They should just disband,” Brueggemann said of the agency. “They don’t want to give money to you.”

Kathy Cook, an SBA spokeswoman in Atlanta, said the agency’s disaster loan program’s requirements are similar to those used by banks.

Applications for small-business grants, under a federal community-development program for Sandy recovery, only became available this month, said Danko, at the Marine Trades group.

Fewer Customers

Meanwhile, boat owners are also coping with Sandy-related losses, curbing business for marinas and slowing their recovery.

“I’ve been fishing a couple times -- there weren’t many people out,” said Whiting resident Harry Brehm, 71, who renamed his boat Survivor because it escaped Sandy unscathed at nearby Good Luck Point.

Usually by Memorial Day weekend, about 100 boats have been launched from his marina, said Tom Beaton, owner of David Beaton & Sons in Brick, New Jersey. This year, he has handled just 15.

Beaton’s boatyard is across the bay from Mantoloking, a barrier-beach borough where fewer than 100 people have returned, said Chris Nelson, a community spokesman. All of its more than 500 homes were damaged, and about 38 await demolition, he said.

“Their homes are wrecked,” said Beaton, 57, whose grandfather started his business. “They’re not worrying about their boats.”

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