Boardwalk wood does forest no good

The Wildwood Boardwalk in New Jersey has piers full of roller coasters, water parks, stores and restaurants.


Kai Ryssdal: One winner in this recession might just be tourism in the great state of New Jersey. Government officials and real estate agents there say penny-pinching East Coasters are staying nearby. And they're snapping up beach rentals for this coming summer -- at 2008 prices, I might add. With spring just a couple of weeks away, Wildwood, N.J., is putting the final touches on a $3.5 million renovation of its oceanfront boardwalk. And so far so good. But economic development is coming with environmental costs. Wildwood is using imported Brazilian hardwood -- ipe wood, it's called. And Joel Rose reports, they are not the only beach town doing it.

JOEL ROSE: On a gray day in late winter, Wildwood is pretty much deserted, except for half a dozen guys in hard hats, who are rebuilding a three-block stretch of boardwalk, one board at a time.

GEORGINA SHANLEY: Unfortunately what they're using here is uncertified ipe rain forest wood from Brazil. It's like walking on a coffin.

Georgina Shanley is an environmental activist from Ocean City, N.J., about 20 miles away. Shanley thought this was one town she had already persuaded.

SHANLEY: About 10 years ago, Wildwood passed a resolution never to use rain forest wood on the boardwalk. It seems like there's a huge addiction of shore towns to rain forest wood, tropical hardwood.

Most of the ipe wood sold in the U.S. comes from Brazil. And as much of 80 percent of that wood is harvested in violation of Brazilian law, says Tim Keating, director of Rainforest Relief. He says an acre of rainforest might contain just one or two mature ipe trees.

TIM KEATING: If you're just hunting down ipe trees, you're bulldozing lots of roads into the forest looking for those ipe trees. It's a huge, huge impact on the forest.

Rainforest Relief tries to persuade U.S. municipalities not to use ipe for boardwalks and decks. But that can be a tough sell, because it's so well suited to the job.

ERNIE TROIANO: Number one, the density is unbelievably hard. It's almost like iron. And number two, it looks like mahogany.

Ernie Troiano is the mayor of Wildwood. He says ipe is expensive, but it's also more durable than other kinds of wood.

TROIANO: Everywhere you go they're using ipe. And I'm not saying that makes it right or wrong. What I'm saying is, it's a proven product. And it'll last. And that's what I need. I need to get the best bang for my buck.

New York was the first city to use ipe for the boardwalk on Coney Island. Now you can find it all over the country, from Miami Beach, to Baltimore's Inner Harbor to Long Beach, Calif.

Mayor Troiano admits that Wildwood violated its own non-binding resolution by turning to ipe. But he says the city did look into alternatives. Wildwood spent $65,000 last fall on a domestic hardwood called black locust. But Troiano says the wood just wasn't up to spec. And there was a lot of pressure from merchants to finish the boardwalk on schedule.

TROIANO:If it's not open by Easter -- Palm Sunday -- all those business owners are not going to be very happy at all. We had to do what we had to do to make sure we got the job done.

The stretch of boardwalk that's under construction happens to be right in front of Morey's Piers, which operates hundreds of amusement park rides and two water parks in Wildwood. Clark Doran is the company's director of planning.

CLARK DORAN: We would be happier if this were black locust and it were done right now than ipe or pine or plastic or any other materials. The black locust seemed like a good solution to us, and we hope it still can be.

Wildwood is planning to redo to rest of its boardwalk over the next few years. The mayor says he'll take another look at the alternatives to ipe. But he's not making any promises.

In Wildwood, N.J., I'm Joel Rose for Marketplace.

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There seems to be some confusion on the materials that are "good" and "bad". To be honest Ipe Decking if pulled from a properly managed forest should be listed as a "good" product. Proper management of the forest will ensure the re-growth of the Ipe Decking product as well as the forest and it inhabitants while help to bring jobs and money to a poverty stricken area of the world. Coming from some one who knows the industry the biggest contributors to deforestation are cattle ranchers and soybean farmers and by a staggering rate. Cattle and Soy account for over 90% of deforestation as to where legal and illegal logging account for 3%. While legal responsible logging will actually re-plant what it takes to ensure that not only is the forest still there but so are the jobs that it has created. So think about that next time your eating a hamburger or drinking soymilk, your adding to deforestation much more by driving the cattle and soy market’s then city’s building board walks using a renewable resource. Un-like your plastic alternatives that while they use some recycled material, still need a lot of virgin plastic and a growing carbon footprint to make a finished product that will in turn sit in a landfill for well forever. So to be honest I think we all need to be properly educated before making any major accusations on things that are simply un-true. Take care and I hope the boardwalk turns out beautiful.

As a professional in the Business where are these liberals getting their facts from 99 9/10 % Ipe is harvested from responsible sources twice as many new Ipe tress are planted than harvested.
Any please send this guy to the rain forest. There is enough forest for at least another 2000 years. Tell this guy to go save the whales.

The Amazon rainforest is predicted to last just another 40 years with all of the destruction that is going on. Shore towns will be under water at that stage with global warming. The boardwalk project in Wildwood is fully funded with grants from the US Dept. of Agriculture and the Urban Enterprise Zone program of NJ a.k.a almost $4m in taxpayers money.
Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)certification in no way vouches for sustainably HARVESTED wood. Check www.fscwatch.org. They certify good management of the forest.How could an Ipe tree that takes up to a 1,000 years to reach full majesty and grows 1 or 2 per hectare; have a sapling planted in a tree farm and grow to replace the mature tree.
Wildwood, NJ, does not even pretend it is interested in "FSC" certified wood. In spite of requesting documentation on the source of the wood and the importer nothing has been given by the city.

Recycled plastic lumber is a perfect alternative. Axion International in NJ is licensed by Rutgers, the state university, takes plastic waste and converts to structural grade lumber. Not only is this getting plastic out of landfills, giving jobs to Americans, helping the state but it is also shielding the rainforest from further destruction.

Who would want to bring a family to a resort that is contributing to an environmental catastrophe that only our children will see! How responsible are we? In the end as the Cree saying goes...only when the last tree is cut down..last river poisoned....will we realize....we cannot eat money

Choice of woods is one of the most complex issues we sustainable architects face. The mayor is right that ipe is hands down the best choice for longevity. It is possible to purchase FSC ipe, but the additional cost is considerable. Trex and many similar products are good alternatives, but plastic lumber has its own problem, like overheating and expansion/contraction. And while plastic lumber does contain some recycled content, they are largely made from virgin petroleum.

A new product has just become available in the last year: heat treated wood which uses NOTHING more than heat to preserve any species of wood. It's longevity is comparable to ipe although it is not as hard as ipe (the treatment has little effect on the original hardness of the wood) Currently there are three doemstic producers, Cambiawood, Purewood, and Keim. I would encourage anyone looking for a sustainable decking material to explore these options. Heat treated wood is not a silver bullet, they may not even be the best choice for every application, but they are excellent alternative to rainforest and petroleum-based products they would replace.

Instead of hypermanaging the mayor of Wildwood, who is trying to do the right thing by a truly awesome summer vacation spot for families, why don't you start wondering why the government of Brazil is allowing this to go on, and why they can't market, in a responsible way, a natural resource that God has given them?

At a moment when inspiration is hard to come by, it seems like a lot of people looking for a good spot to vacation would be more apt to visit a town committed to a sustainable environment than one whose mayor is so unapologetic about violating his town's own ordinance to use this type of wood, especially when it sounds as if at least one reasonable, domestically produced alternative is available.

Usually, you guys are so good at covering all the angles of a complex issue. However, as a landscape architect working on multiple LEED projects, I was disappointed that your story did not address the social and environmental benefits of using Sustainably Harvested (FSC-certified) wood. Of course, deforesting South America is terrible; however, as long as the wood is sustainably harvested, the use of hardwoods like ipe in landscape construction reduces maintenance and repair energy input and costs. Furthermore, ipe does not require a finish (often petroleum-based), as softer woods do. Saying that ipe is more durable is an understatement--in an application such as a boardwalk, its typical lifespan is over 25 years, compared to 10-15 for other commonly used woods. Socially and economically speaking, sustainable forestry in the tropics is a viable industry, and should be supported. And as for Trex, aside from its miserable appearance, it is prone to warping and splintering, does not stand up to the kind of foot traffic seen on a boardwalk, and typically lasts about 10 years.

That said, it is disappointing that the town chose a wood that contributes to such serious environmental degradation--whether in a forest in South America, the Pacific Northwest, or elsewhere.

I am stunned that with the millions of dollars spent to prevent global warming and to protect the environment, Mayor Troiano is funding the destruction of the rainforest, of the 500 year old-growth forests so that one can walk on wood that supposedly feels good under your feet. This is pure ignorance and an abuse of power and I hope the people of Wildwood and the world realize what Mayor Troiano is trying to accomplish here. There are plenty of proven, cheaper, domestically produced alternatives to rainforest wood. Why give buisness to someone else when jobs are being lost here and at the same time, destroy the rainforest? Wow, Troiano, great thinking.

Are these guys crazy? Haven't they ever heard of Trex? It's a composite lumber made from recycled wood pulp and plastic milk bottles. It's easy to work and lasts a lot longer than pressure treated wood.
I covered my pool deck with Trex in 1993 and it still looks great. It's never been stained, sealed, treated or painted.
No one has ever gotten a splinter from it and it has never split.
It's American made and has got to be cheaper in the long run than replacing ageing wood with a Brazilian import that causes global warming due to it's harvest.
IPEDepot.com shows 5/4 by 6 decking at $3.31 per linear foot. Last time I bought Trex, it was $29.00 for 20 feet of 5/4 by 6 decking (1.45 per foot).

Wow...this story left me speechless. How incredibly inspiring it is to have someone with Mayor Troiano's vision. After all, what's a rainforest when a mayor needs a mahogany look-a-like boardwalk that tourists can toss their cigarette butts and gum onto? May he be the last of a dying breed of decision-maker that can't see beyond their own feet. Sad, sad story.

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