OCEAN GROVE – The Ocean Grove pier, damaged in 2012 during Super Hurricane Sandy, is being rebuilt by a Christian nonprofit in the shape of a cross, a design that has drawn local criticism.
The jetty, which will be 500 feet long and cost $1.3 million, is privately funded and will be open to the public, replacing the jetty and private fishing club that were washed away in October 2012.
At a Neptune Township committee meeting this fall, resident Shane Martins, a local attorney who lives in Ocean Grove, said he objected to the project’s design because of what he called “legal technicalities” and “the well-being of our community”.
“We are facing a crisis,” Martins told the committee. “The (Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association) is ushering in radical Christian nationalism and I think that’s something you all need to be aware of.”
Martins explained, for example, that in 2017 Ocean Grove badges required to go to the beach began displaying a cross.
“So for the first 140 years you didn’t have to wear a cross to go to the beach. Since 2017 all badges have a very prominent cross. Also they have installed loudspeakers in the parks of the city, supposed to be for emergency evacuations, but instead they are blowing up their Sunday services,” Martins said.
Martins also expressed concern about a connection between the Ocean Grove religious group and a group known as the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which, according to its website, once represented the association. The organization, which has proposed to criminalize gay sex, has been designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group, Martins said.
Michael Badger, president of the Camp Meetings Association, said the association is not affiliated with the alliance and does not support such radical ideas.
“We have never, to my knowledge, paid any money to the ADF. We currently have no interaction with them, no relationship with them,” he said. “In 2008 they did some pro bono work, but we haven’t spoken with them to my knowledge.”
“It has nothing to do with (Christian nationalism),” Badger said, adding that the pier project had been in the works for many years.
The Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association owns the unincorporated community located in Neptune Township and is rooted in its Methodist heritage. The purpose of the group is to provide opportunities for spiritual birth, growth and renewal through worship, educational, cultural and recreational programs for people of all ages in a Christian seaside setting, in accordance with the statement of group mission.
Badger said he was caught off guard by opposition to the pier design.
“(The Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association) is not trying to fan the flames. We’re not trying to create controversy and make headlines,” Badger said.
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The concept design for the pier has been online for three years. The association’s website states that “Ocean Grove Pier has been an iconic OGCMA waterfront landmark since 1889. A completed pier will provide a publicly accessible attraction for all to enjoy. The reconstruction of the current jetty which is an unsightly spot on our beach will provide new opportunities for our community and our future programs.”
“We collected the money. We wouldn’t build it until we had the money. We have the permits. We have the contract,” Badger said.
He added: “There was a review period for public comment which has been closed. There have been no complaints in the three years the design has been online.”
Badger said the association wants the public to know about the project because the group wants the public to be included.
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“We were looking to raise $550,000 for the pier. The pier actually costs $1.3 million, and the rest was already from the Camp Meetings Association,” Badger said, adding that no government funding is available. was involved.
After reconfiguring the square footage of the private fishing club, the cross-shaped design was approved by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.
“We were looking to have more technology on the pier. So we would put meteorological and oceanographic equipment so we could measure tides, wave heights, electrostatic lightning potential so we could get people out of the water, to have radios there to contact the Coast Guard,” Badger said.
He said the pier will also be handicapped accessible.
He adds that the design is practical and optimized to bring the public to the water’s edge.
“We were excited to do it with our own money. Design it. Campaign for it. And I think the whole audience is going to go out there and love it,” Badger said.
The construction of the pier, which began at the end of September, should be completed in December.
Ocean Grove was recently fined by the DEP because an inspection revealed sand moving activities were taking place near the dunes south of the pier. A pile of sand was observed next to the eastern side of the southernmost dune.
During the DEP investigation, the sand was removed from the pile with an excavator and moved to the east.
Charles Daye is the Underground Reporter for Asbury Park and Neptune, with a focus on diversity, equity and inclusion. @CharlesDayeAPP Contact him: CDaye@gannettnj.com