Storm-Impacted Ocean County Residents Reaching Breaking Point Over Recovery Problems
Ocean County Board of Freeholders looking for ways to streamline process as much as possible
Ocean County will not recover from Superstorm Sandy in a matter of weeks or even months, Freeholder Director John P. Kelly said today.
"It's going to be years," he said.
Kelly made the remarks at the Ocean County Board of Freeholders caucus meeting, a meeting dominated by the storm that ravaged Ocean County on Oct. 29.
And while much of the slow recovery process depends on the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the state and local municipalities, the county needs to do as much as possible to provide guidance, Kelly said.
"We want them to know county government will do everything to help them," Kelly said. "Every phone call we have received is unique and very time-consuming."
Gov. Chris Christie "did his best to provide some sort of guidance" when he announced recently that the state would adopt the Federal Emergency Management Agency's advisory base flood elevations immediately, Kelly said.
"It wasn't a matter he discussed with the board," he said. "We have to live with it."
The next 90 days will impact the future of Ocean County, Freeholder Joseph H. Vicari said.
"We have to bring new money into Ocean County," he said. "It can only be done in cooperation with other agencies. We have a plan in place. Once we lose the tourism industry to the southern states, it will be very difficult to get people to come back to Ocean County."
Municipal and county officials need to do as much as possible to streamline the rebuilding process or risk having residents and business owners walk away, Vicari said.
"The residents are at a fragile, breaking point right now," he said. "They are not living in their houses."
Vicari said the state needs to enact legislation that would put a five-year freeze on house assessments after residents rebuild and improve their dwellings, as long as the footprint of the home doesn't change.
"You don't give people incentives, they will walk away," he said after the meeting. "The state of New Jersey should freeze assessments for five years so at least it gives you a break."
Vicari attended the monthly meeting of the Ocean County Mayors Association last week. The major topic of discussion was storm recovery, he said.
"There was a 100 percent consensus that the dunes are a public safety issue," he said. "They must be done. We don't want to lose residents who come for the summer months."'
Rebuilding has already begun on Jenkinson's Pavilion in Point Pleasant Beach, and the Casino and Funtown piers in Seaside Heights, Vicari said.
"We are trying to get information out, trying to sell Ocean County," he said.
The mayors also discussed how quickly the cost of building materials is rising.
"Every month it's going up ten percent," Vicari said. "The Department of Consumer Affairs is taking a look at it."
County Administrator Carl W. Block said the Sandy aid figures released by FEMA last week were preliminary, not final amounts. So residents and municipal officials should not panic if their towns were not on the list.
"There is going to be considerably more money distributed," he said. "It just hasn't come yet."
There are different categories of storm aid, such as debris removal, Block said.
"Each state will be given an amount for which category and how much," he said. "I would think that within seven days, we will start getting word from the state. The reports aren't wrong, they are just incomplete."
Residents' frustration levels are increasing, because they are faced with a myriad of regulations and delayed insurance payments, Lacey said.
"I'm getting calls because people don't know what to do," he said. "I know who to call and I can't get a straight answer. It's very convoluted."