"The beach and the boardwalk go together," said Mayor Matthew Doherty. "It's who we are; it's part of our identity."
Yet identity only goes so far in shore towns' calculus. Money is a bigger factor.
"If there's no boardwalk, people aren't going to come this summer," Doherty said. "They'll go somewhere else, and if they like it there, they won't be back here. We want to be the first in the race to get things started for the summer."
A 20-foot chunk of boardwalk is all that remains in Belmar, for one reason. It was an experimental section, bolted to underpinnings with the same hurricane tie-down straps that many home builders use to bind homes to their foundations. The entire new Belmar boardwalk will be built this way, Doherty said.
Other Jersey shore towns including Sea Girt, Asbury Park and Point Pleasant Beach are moving forward with boardwalk rebuilding plans; Spring Lake has to rebuild its boardwalk little more than a year after Tropical Storm Irene wrecked half the old one. New York state parks, including the popular Jones Beach, also are starting to rebuild.
Doherty, the Belmar mayor, is confident his boardwalk will be replaced before Memorial Day brings its own set of worries.
"If we rebuild this boardwalk, we'll have plenty of tourists," he said. "And then people will be complaining about parking."
Associated Press writer Karen Matthews in New York contributed to this report.
Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC