Ocean Grove has lost an appeal for funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The government aid agency states that the non-profit organization does not qualify for funding because the boardwalk is a recreational area.
When Hurricane Sandy swept through the area in October 2012, Ocean Grove suffered significant damage: the boardwalk was ruined and the pier was swept out to sea. In the past, FEMA has had an inconsistent response to the odd area of Ocean Grove. In 1992, the organization repaired the boardwalk after a storm even though the area belonged to the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association, not the surrounding area of Neptune Township. However, in 2011, FEMA denied help when a private fishing club in Ocean Grove was damaged in Hurricane Irene.
The complexity of Ocean Grove’s FEMA application stems from the fact it is an unincorporated community with religious roots. The area of the boardwalk has received public funds in the past, which many believe makes it a public area. In addition, a civil rights issue that arose in 2007— involving a same-sex couple desiring to marry in the pavilion along the beach—raised questions about whether or not the area was for public use or private use.
Those who agree with FEMA’s funding decision believe that Ocean Grove wishes the boardwalk was considered a public space when they need funds to repair it, but not when they wish to limit the boardwalk’s public usage. Those who disagree with FEMA’s decision believe that the government is trying to punish the organization for its religious leanings and perhaps making a statement about gay marriage and civil unions.