A sea of gray and splintered pine surrounds small square of unweathered wood on the deck of the Ocean City Boardwalk near 12th Street.
Three types of wood make up the patch — an experiment in Ocean City's quest to find a material that can endure through salt water, sun, storms and time.
The city has long been frustrated with the quality and durability of the southern yellow pine that has traditionally been used to deck the boardwalk. Changes in the preservatives used to pressure-treat the wood have made yellow pine even less reliable. The wood cracks and splinters, exposing screws and leaving an uneven surface.
The city has committed to spending close to $10 million over nine years to entirely replace the boardwalk between Fifth and 12th streets. The project had been scheduled to start this year, but the city administration balked. Before making the investment, they want to find a material that can stand the test of time.
Three of products under consideration:
- TimberSIL: "A fusion of steel-strong glass fibers inside and outside of wood fibers and cell walls forms a glass-wood matrix," according to the company that makes it. TimberSIL boasts that its product is fire retardant, made from recycled material, rot-resistant and strong as steel.
- Siberian Larch: A hardwood imported from Russia that claims to be the "last sustainable, old growth timber in the world." Siberian larch sellers suggest that buildings and churches made from the wood have stood for 800 years.
- Bamboo: A composite of bamboo fibers and recycled plastics.
Not under consideration is ipe — a tropical hardwood that has proven effective, strong and still smooth in a section near the southern end of the Ocean City Boardwalk that was decked in 1988. The city has $275,000 worth of ipe in storage — left untouched after a lengthy controversy over its potential use. Many had objected to using ipe because the wood is harvested from threatened rain forests.
Ocean City Business Administrator Mike Dattilo said 20 of 72 lots of the city's ipe are now being auctioned on govdeals.com (follow link to see detail). The city has set minimum bids, and none has been sold.
Dattilo said Ocean City, Md., has decked part of its boardwalk with TimberSIL, but the test is only a year old.
He any of the products under consideration would be more expensive than southern yellow pine but would likely be less expensive than ipe.
The test patches at 12th Street were created in September and are marked with dates. But City Council will likely make a decision on a potential material for the first phase of boardwalk reconstruction (Fifth to Sixth streets) before the city can see how the samples react over time.
Capital workshops are scheduled for the fall, and council will address the plans as part of that process, Dattilo said.