The Belmar Borough Council on Wednesday approved an additional $1.4 million for the re-construction of its boardwalk, even while the reason given for the extra money has changed.
The vote, which followed a lengthy discussion among council members spurred by a short presentation by the borough’s engineers, was 4-0. Councilman James Bean abstained.
The vote brings the total price of the boardwalk reconstruction to just shy of $8 million, up from the original bid of $6.6 million, an increase of about 17 percent.
The project’s engineer, Paul Calabrese of Birdsall Engineering, said in a short presentation prior to the vote that the additional money was required chiefly to install safety measures to buttress the boardwalk from future storms because the original design anticipated the addition of a seawall that FEMA has since nixed.
“The original design needed to be strengthened to address the increased forces that the original bid did not consider because it considered the seawall as part of the system,’’ said Scott McFadden, Chief Administrative Officer at Birdsall. “And that’s really the driving force behind the (additional safety measures).’’
But that’s not the same reason Birdsall gave for the change order just a week ago, when the company said in a release that the boardwalk was in places wider than the 25-foot specifications in the original bid, causing the inflated price.
In that release, the company also said the wheelchair access ramps had to be changed because of lowered sand levels on the beach – a condition that, because of the amount of debris on the shoreline at the time the specifications were written, was impossible to anticipate, a claim Calabrese reiterated at Wednesday’s meeting.
But Calabrese said that FEMA was mainly to blame for the bump in the boardwalk’s price tag because the organization would not allow for an expected seawall to be built in conjunction with the boardwalk rebuild. The feds consider the two projects mutually exclusive, Calabrese said.
Because of that, extra safety measures – extra joists and hurricane straps – had to be built into the design, adding to the project’s cost, he said.
Mayor Matt Doherty, along with Councilwoman Jennifer Nicolay and Council President Claire Diecke defended the change order, saying that change orders were typical of large projects.
“It’s not unusual to have change orders on a construction project of this magnitude,’’ Calabrese said.
Prior to the vote, Councilman Bean had harsh words for the change order and abstained from participation.
“I am not voting on things that my vote doesn’t even count,’’ Bean said. “If they were already authorized to do it, they don’t need me. I’m now calling this the Jim Bean rule and I’m invoking it. I’m not voting on anything where the decision has already been made. Jim Bean rule is invoked. I am abstaining.”
Later, the council also approved an additional $574,272 for boardwalk lighting. That vote was unanimous.