A Sea Bright home as seen from the sea wall five days after Hurricane Sandy. Borough officials contend the number of severely damaged homes is being underestimated by a state agency. (Click to enlarge)
By WIL FULTON
Six months after Hurricane Sandy walloped the region, Sea Bright officials find themselves in a disagreement with a state agency over the financial impact of the storm.
The dispute, centered on newly released New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (DCA)s data on the extent of storm destruction in town, was one of a handful of post-Sandy issues that dominated Tuesday nights council meeting.
The DCA released some numbers that gave statistics from Sea Bright, Mayor Dina Long told the audience, and they said there were 574 homes with damage. Of those homes, 32 had major damage damage between $8,000 and $28,000; and 63 homes suffered severe damage over $28,000 worth of damage.
Based on where I live, and what it cost to fix even my own house, I really feel like these numbers are not reflecting an on-the-ground truth, she said.
Long said she would like to make it a priority that we collect the accurate damage numbers from our residents, so we can show the state what the damages actually were.
Long’s concern, and that of several residents who spoke on the matter, is that the DCA will make funding decisions based on grossly underestimated numbers, and that the town would in turn be under-compensated for its losses.
When a member of the audience asked her where the DCAs numbers came from, Long replied good question, with a hint of frustration in her voice.
They didnt come from us, added Councilman Read Murphy.
We need to be able to demonstrate that these numbers aren’t accurate, and they certainly aren’t accurate in my perception, Long said, before asking that residents volunteer to collect data reflecting what she repeatedly referred to as the on-the-ground truth,” starting with gathering basic rebuilding data and metrics from affected homes.
Long also reported that she met last Friday with state Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Bob Martin to confirm that the DEP Coastal Engineering crew was working on a fix for the breach in the sea wall in North Beach that caused a closure of Ocean Avenue last month.
But regarding other ocean breaches in the rock wall, and the Shrewsbury River’s overtopping of bulkheads, Long said Martin was clear that they would work with us, but would like us to pursue federal funding sources for those projects, saying that the sea wall breaches are potentially addressable by FEMA, and the bulkheads would potentially be addressable by the Army Corps of Engineers.
One resident inquired about the state of the towns proposed locally-funded replacement to the failed Sheltering and Temporary Electric and Power, or STEP, program, which the borough scrapped last month.
We were unsuccessful with FEMA and the STEP program, Long said. We were also unsuccessful running a local alternative, in that the funding would basically end up being $600,000 on the taxpayer dime, and we were unwilling to do that as a council.
Long added, however, that she got on the phone to several charities, including Sea Bright Rising, to try to secure a significant donation for the 130 properties targeted for inclusion in the failed FEMA program, and that officials of the charity were currently working on a solution.
Providing a silver lining to the meeting were Dan Kelly and Bill Crow from the Keith McHeffey Foundation, who organize an annual charity run in Sea Bright every March in honor of their friend, McHeffey, who died in the September 11, 2001 World Trade Center attack. They presented the borough with a $10,000 check during the public comment portion of the meeting.
If it wasnt for Sea Bright, we wouldnt have had the race this year,” Kelly said. “We almost called it off for 2013. But the fire, police and DPW put extra time in and allowed us to hold the race in Sea Bright again this year. We netted about $9,000, so we decided to round up and present Sea Bright with a check for $10,000 tonight.”