Wildwood, N.J. — New Jersey’s most popular beach town is about to make a decision that has been criticized by environmentalists around the world — using wood cut from Amazon rainforests to repair a section of its boardwalk.
Wildwood, voted the state’s best beach last summer by vacationers and others, will become just the latest of several New Jersey communities that have opted to use highly durable wood from the Brazilian ipe (pronounced “EE’-pay”) tree to build or fix boardwalks.
The wood looks good, lasts for decades, is strong, and can withstand moisture and the corrosive effects of salt better than other species of wood, making it popular for use in boardwalks.
Environmental groups contend the world’s tropical rainforests are being wiped out by logging to satisfy demand for this kind of wood.
Mayor Ernest Troiano Jr. said Wildwood reluctantly turned to ipe wood only because a shipment of domestically grown black locust wood arrived in unusable condition.
“I’m not advocating tearing down the Brazilian rainforests,” he said. “We wanted to use black locust, to do the right thing and the environmentally responsible thing. But the wood we ordered is not the wood that was delivered.”
Unless a last-minute alternative can be found, Wildwood will start using ipe wood within the next few weeks to replace aging planks in front of the skee-ball arcades, body-piercing stands and fortune teller booths that line its boardwalk.
“We have the boardwalk torn open and it needs to be fixed and ready to go by Easter,” Troiano said. “If we don’t get that hole closed up, it will be a nightmare for our merchants.”
The move comes a year after Ocean City, a fellow Cape May County beach town, was criticized by environmentalists for using Brazilian ipe to replace part of its boardwalk.
Thousands of protest e-mails from as far away as Australia, the Philippines, South Africa and New Zealand flooded the mayor’s computer.
Ipe is a flowering tree that can grow to 100 feet, towering above the forest canopy. It is Brazil’s largest timber export, with half of it sold to customers in the United States.
Ipe wood has been used in boardwalk projects from coast to coast, including Atlantic City, N.J.; New York; Baltimore; Chicago; Miami Beach, and Long Beach and Santa Monica, Calif.