Ocean City axes rain forest deal

January 17, 2008 9:26:39 PM PST
Bowing to a year of protests and delays that have drawn the ire of local residents and environmentalists around the globe, this South Jersey beach town voted Thursday night to cancel its contract to buy $1.1 million worth of tropical rain forest wood to fix its boardwalk.

The council does not intend to pay for any of the wood, including the 3 percent of the order it has already received and another 15 percent that is supposedly on its way, Councilman Keith Hartzell said after the meeting.

"Our preference is to send it back," he said.

The only way the city would pay for the wood it has already received is if it were ordered to do so by a judge, he said.

"This has become a big embarrassment for the city of Ocean City," said Councilman Scott Ping. "We got newspeople from around the world waiting to see what's happening here. It's a global issue that we're talking about.

"We should do what's right for the city," Ping added. "We need to start tomorrow. I'll grab a hammer and start putting decking down on the boardwalk."

Several council members said they now prefer using domestic yellow pine to cover a block-long section of the boardwalk that has been ripped up in anticipation of the wood being delivered.

"This is amazing, fantastic news," said Rhonda Van Wingerden, head of a local environmental group, Friends of the Rain Forest, which has been fighting the plan for the past year.

In a 6-0 vote, the council passed a resolution declaring the Louis J. Grasmick Lumber Co. of Baltimore in default of its contract with the city. The company said Monday the delays in shipping the wood were due to unavoidable factors, including record low water levels in the Amazon jungle that made it hard to float the logs to mills.

City Attorney Gerald Corcoran, said the council's refusal to pay the bill could lead the lumber company to sue, but said he doubted that would happen.

The wood the city ordered carried such a hefty price tag because it was certified as having been harvested responsibly. But environmentalists say such harvesting is still denuding the rain forests and said the city should use domestic wood or synthetic alternatives.