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A worker signals that a wooden piling has been driven just far enough into the sand in Seaside Heights, N.J., as the town began building its iconic boardwalk that was destroyed in Superstorm Sandy. / AP, Wayne Parry

SEASIDE HEIGHTS, N.J. - The borough's renewal after superstorm Sandy's devastation began Friday when the first piling of a new boardwalk was driven into the sand.

As the wooden piling went deep into the earth on the south end of town, bagpipes played Amazing Grace and crowds cheered. It is only the first of 2,000 pilings needed to rebuild the milelong boardwalk devastated in Hurricane Sandy's surges, but it was enough to please those who watched the work from the roof of the Beachcomber Bar & Grill.

"We're very happy for this day," said Linda Sodl, a resident who came to watch the ceremony with her husband, Craig. "We hope it will be ready for Memorial Day so we can come back for another celebration."

The oceanside town of 3,000 became famous as the backdrop for the MTV reality show Jersey Shore, and its boardwalk is the most famous of many damaged in the October hurricane.

But during the hurricane, Casino Pier's Jet Star roller coaster plunged into the Atlantic. Photos of its resting spot in the ocean may be the most enduring image of the storm. Plans still have not been finalized on how or when to remove it.

The boardwalk draws thousands of visitors every summer and is vital to the area's financial stability, Mayor Bill Akers said.

"It's a huge day for us, a new beginning for the town," he said. "It's the culmination of a lot of hard work, starting with the rescues, the cleanup, the planning, culminating in the actual rebuilding of Seaside Heights."

When the Borough Council approved the contract with Sidd & Associates, it required the boardwalk be complete by May 10 or the company will be fined $7,500 a day until it is finished.

Michael Loundy, a real-estate agent who rents out the house where the Jersey Shore cast lived while filming, could not overestimate the importance of getting the boardwalk back. (The cast's house was not seriously damaged in the storm.)

"This is a proud moment for all of us after everything we went through with Sandy," he said. "We're excited about rebuilding. We loved Seaside the way it was and we'll love it again."

Jay Siddiqui, Sidd & Associates' president, said his workers will start out building eight to 10 hours a day five days a week, but if they are running behind, they will work longer hours for six days to meet the deadline.

The Millstone, N.J.-based company's $3.6 million contract edged out 15 other bids for the job.

The borough expects to award a separate contract in March for additional boardwalk work, including ramps and railings, Akers said. The project also likely will include a protective seawall and cost $6 million to $7 million.

Loundy said potential tourists want to know if Seaside Heights will be ready in time for vacation season.

"Our phones are ringing," he said. "People want to know: 'Is the town open? Will you be ready? Will the beach be ready?' We absolutely will be ready."

Contributing: The Associated Press


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