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Part of new Long Beach boardwalk may open soon

Construction workers repair the boardwalk in Long Beach. (July

Construction workers repair the boardwalk in Long Beach. (July 23, 2013) Photo Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams, Jr.

The middle section of Long Beach's new $44.2 million boardwalk could open to pedestrians within a few days, city officials said Tuesday.

The firm that is building the boardwalk -- which replaces the century-old predecessor destroyed by superstorm Sandy -- is required by contract to finish by Thursday the middle four-fifths of a mile, from Laurelton Boulevard to Long Beach Boulevard.

The project is on time and within budget, city manager Jack Schnirman Tuesday.

The city will inspect the middle portion after Plainview-based Grace Industries certifies it is finished and will open it to the public "as soon as possible," Long Beach public works Commissioner Jim LaCarrubba said.

Two members of the City Council, Republican John McLaughlin and Democrat Eileen Goggin, said the portion could reopen as soon as Saturday. Schnirman and other city officials stopped short of promising a weekend reopening.

"This historic project for Long Beach appears to be on time and on budget, and we look forward to our inspectors certifying substantial completion of this first section," Schnirman said.

The city has spent $2.7 million for the project so far, LaCarrubba said. The middle two blocks of the boardwalk are complete and were being inspected Tuesday, but are not yet open to the public, he said.

The rebuilding of the boardwalk -- Long Beach's most recognizable feature and its key tourism draw -- has become a touchstone for the city's recovery from Sandy. John Bendo, president of the West End Neighbors Civic Association, said the price tag is daunting but the project is critical for the city's rebirth.

"That's kind of our version of the Eiffel Tower," Bendo said. "It's good to see it back -- its coming back is sort of representative of the city coming back."

A group of Republican-backed challengers in this year's city council race have made a political issue out of the boardwalk. They say its scheduled completion for November was set to make the Democrat-controlled council look favorable to voters.

The city made a "blatantly political decision regarding an iconic symbol of our city," the candidates said in a statement Tuesday. Schnirman, who was appointed by the Democrats, called the criticism "ridiculous."

Richard Neugebauer, chief operating officer for Grace Industries, declined to comment or confirm that the project is on schedule.

Grace's contract calls for the firm to complete the entire 2.2-mile structure by Nov. 12. Grace is required to reach "substantial completion" of the entire boardwalk by Oct. 13, LaCarruba said.

The city allowed residents and tourists a sneak preview of the middle two blocks on July 13.

"The boardwalk looked beautiful," Goggin said.

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