BELMAR — Benches have returned to the Belmar boardwalk after months of being stored away at the borough’s DPW yard.
Reinstallation of the boardwalk benches began on Thursday, as workers with the borough’s DPW department worked to put all benches back in the same locations.
Residents of Belmar have been calling for benches to return, arguing that with summer tourists gone there was enough space on the boardwalk to allow pedestrians to move around while social distancing. Mayor Mark Walsifer said this week that it was time to give the residents what they wanted.
“We weren’t having the influx of crowds we had in the spring coming down on the weekends and on nice days,” the mayor said in an interview with The Coast Star on Tuesday.
Benches were originally taken off the boardwalk in spring in order to give pedestrians room to social distance on the boardwalk as well as prevent the possible spread of the virus through contact with the beaches.
While benches are being reinstalled, the mayor said that there is still a possibility that the borough will have to remove them again should the number of new COVID-19 cases increase.
“I am hoping that the pandemic doesn’t come back and bite us over the winter or else we will have to take everything off and close everything back up again,” the mayor said. The mayor expects that borough to have all the benches back on the boardwalk by this weekend.
At the last borough council meeting on Oct. 6, members of the council discussed putting benches back on the boardwalk after residents contacted members about reinstalling the benches.
“Certainly, our top priority as a municipality and the office of emergency management is to keep our residents safe and that has been the top priority since the COVID-19 crisis hit,” Councilman James McCracken said at that meeting. “I would just like the office of emergency management to consider perhaps directing the department of public works to put maybe just one bench on the boardwalk, maybe one at each gate or every other gate.” One borough resident at the meeting asked for a return of the benches, telling members of the council that the benches are for more than just sitting, as some are memorials to loved ones who have died.
“My main point is that many [benches] have been dedicated to lost ones and it’s a place we want to go and need to go,” Jennifer DeBlasio said.
As of Oct. 1, bicycles are not allowed on the boardwalk. The borough has not seen a large increase in bikers at the beachfront, the mayor said this week, which also reinforced the idea that it was a good time to put the benches back.
“Everybody seems to be good, they are still social distancing and doing what they have to do,” the mayor said.
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