Avon-by-the-Sea to Ravage Rainforest

Sandy destroyed the boardwalk in the little NJ town of Avon, and now the town is poised to rebuild using rainforest wood, continuing the cycle of climate chaos.

Letter to the Editor from Tim Keating, director of Rainforest Relief.

To the Editor

The most important aspect of the protests opposing Avon’s use of tropical hardwoods that has been picked up by the media seems to be the “threat” of a boycott of the town. There are two realities I would like to make clear. First, by specifying ipê over other materials, Avon made the first threat. Logging of rainforests is the primary factor leading to deforestation, which, in turn, is responsible for 25 – 30% of climate chaos gases. The irony that Avon — which replaced their entire boardwalk, from the pilings on up, with tropical hardwoods in 1993, after a massive storm wiped out the old one, and then watched while Sandy pounded the new one to scrap twenty years later (in another “100 year“ storm) — is demanding even more rainforest wood to fuel even more climate chaos, is incredible.

The fact that the bid called for wood that originates from a forest operation that is “formally involved” with an “independent” certification program, and is likely about to install wood that has no such certification and thus has an 80% chance of having been logged illegally, is not only morally corrupt but also, we believe, a federal crime, the violation of which can incur jail sentences of up to five years. As well, according to federal purchasing guidelines written to comply with the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), when federal agency funds are used, “recovered” materials must be used when they are available. Avon expects to have 75% of the boardwalk paid for by FEMA reimbursement (in fact, an Avon commissioner stated Monday night that he expects “no impact on the [Avon] taxpayer” — that is, everyone else will be paying for this boardwalk. Since that is the case, and we’re all paying to replace Avon’s boardwalk, then we should all have an equal say in what it’s made of and what it’s impact on our planet is.

Regarding materials, first, as always, it’s important to understand the difference between wood-plastic composite lumber (WPCL) and recycled plastic lumber (RPL). The American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) recognized that difference years ago. It does no one any service to call all these materials “composites” and lump them together, because they are vastly different in their performance, cost, characteristics, durability and recyclability. Just because Belmar used Trex and couldn’t recycle it after the storm, doesn’t mean that other materials cannot be recycled after use. In fact, the company Axion International, which produces the Struxure brand of “recycled structural composite” (their phrase), has stated that it will accept their product back at the facility, to be re-recycled back into more lumber. Indeed, from cradle to grave, this makes RPL the greenest material choice for a boardwalk — and one of the greenest materials on Earth.

That said, domestic hardwoods are also an option. It’s high time ‘we’ re-discovered ‘our own’ materials. I have spent nine years touting the wonders of black locust; that work is the reason that ASLA now suggests the material. The only reason we haven’t seen it on a boardwalk project (which may soon change) is that an unscrupulous supplier jumped into the Wildwood process last-minute, promising the moon, and then delivered sub-grade wood. Wildwood sued, the supplier counter-sued and the whole thing set the idea of black locust back a decade. I am hoping that will soon change.

And there is also Thermory, a brand of thermally modified white ash. Using only heat and steam, the company is able to turn what is a hard and strong hardwood that is not very durable in the outdoors into a product that is rated to last more than 25 years in the elements. Over 40 million feet have been installed in the last 15 years in Europe and Japan. Finally, it’s coming back to our shores.

I have worked for 23 years to stop the use of tropical hardwoods in the US that have been logged from old-growth rainforests. Avon has stepped backwards a decade. In 2008, Mayor Bloomburg announced a city-wide plan to reduce New York City’s use of tropical hardwoods. Indeed, with the 12 miles of boardwalks, tens of thousands of park benches, the decking of the Brooklyn Bridge, thousands of pilings and planking in the Staten Island Ferry terminals, and hundreds of miles of subway track ties, New York City was the single largest consumer of tropical hardwoods in North America. Yet, within a few years, they have found alternatives for most of the uses. The boardwalks in the Rockaways destroyed by Sandy will not be replaced with ipê or cumaru. If massive NYC can make this shift, tiny Avon can, too. 

Speaking of size, we have calculated that 766 acres of rainforest will be logged to produce the 58,000+ square feet of tropical hardwoods logged from old-growth rainforests in the Amazon needed to cover the boardwalk — this time. The last time, Avon also used thousands of greenheart trees as pilings and thousands more for pile caps and stringers. Loggers trash half an acre of rainforests in Guyana to get at just two greenheart trees there. So, add in an additional 1000 acres to the 766 acres logged to produce the 1993 boardwalk. In just two decades, Avon alone will have consumed over 2500 acres of old-growth, never-before-logged tropical rainforest.

Avon-by-the Sea is only 347 acres.

Yes, we will seek to boycott Avon and also seek an injunction to stop the town from breaking the law and destroying an inordinate amount of our planet for their misdirected desires. Avon is about to rob millions of beings in the rainforest of their lives and every being on the planet, present and future, of a little more of our ability to thrive. As well, we believe they are about to break at least two federal laws. We must do everything we can to stop this forest and climate crime. 

Every homeowner in the US should take this to heart as well, and avoid tropical hardwoods for their home decks, exterior siding, interior flooring, paneling and trim, indoor and outdoor furniture and other uses (yes, even certain pencils). Stopping our seemingly insatiable demand for rainforest wood is the single quickest way to slow the greatest amount of climate chaos gas emissions. Are you concerned about the impact of your flight to Bermuda? Of course you should be, but your Brazilian “cherry” floor caused 10,000 times the harm. Call or email Rainforest Relief for beautiful, durable alternatives to tropical hardwoods, for both indoors and out. And go to www.rainforestrelief.org to sign the petition to send a message to Avon — and in so doing, other towns across the country.

For the forests,
Tim Keating, director
Rainforest Relief

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