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Blame Hurricane Katrina For Delays In Sandy Funding, Amato Says

Officials don't want residents still mired in grant process to have to pay construction fees

by Patricia A. Miller

RREM.

Just the mention of the acronym for Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation program can provokes snorts, sighs, laughter or even curse words from some Superstorm Sandy victims.

More than 7,000 New Jersey homeowners are still on the state Department of Community Affairs' waiting list to see if they will be one of the lucky ones to receive up to $150,000 to rebuild or elevate their homes.

"Who would have thought that almost two years after the fact people are still tearing their homes down?" Township Council President James J. Byrnes said at the April 21 council meeting. "The RREM is going to go on forever."

Berkeley was one of the few towns in Ocean County to waive construction fees for residents with Sandy-battered homes after the storm roared in on Oct. 29, 2012.

The fees were originally waived from Oct. 29, 2012 to Oct. 29, 2013, but the Township Council granted another extension for several months.

Both Byrnes and Amato said they don't want residents mired in the RREM process or still waiting for money to have to pay construction fees to the township.

"Lots of people are going through the grant process," the mayor said.

And the process has been delayed since there are now a number of steps residents must follow, to avoid fraud, he said.

"You can thank Hurricane Katrina," Amato said, referring to the monster storm that hit New Orleans in 2005. "The federal government couldn't write checks fast enough. People in the lower Ninth Ward...they got their checks and they ran."

Byrnes estimated it would be another one to two years before storm-damaged sections of Berkeley are rebuilt and ratables start to climb again.

"At the end of the day, we're going to recoup this, but it's going to be a long haul."

The state's Disaster Recovery Action plan calls for the DCA to administer more than $1.8 billion in federal Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery funds. Of that amount, $600 million was set allocated for the RREM program and $180 million for the resettlement program, according to the DCA's website.

Two rounds of RREM funding have been released, but the waiting list has more than 7,000 residents on it. Gov. Chris Christie has said a number of times there will not be enough money to go around.
 



KMurray April 23, 2014 at 07:46 AM
Thanks to Berkeley for their extension of the waiving of the construction fees for it's residents. The reconstruction or raising of thousands of homes is a massive undertaking. Any one in the construction business will tell you that it is better to plan carefully before breaking ground on a project. I'm in the first round of grant signers and I'm waiting for ground to be broken on my project. It's tough to be patient, but I am more concerned with the outcome than I am with the amount of time that this is taking.
grace April 23, 2014 at 08:02 AM
wishing you all the best @kmurray, its been a long hard road for many.
Mark Schleifstein April 23, 2014 at 11:27 AM
If Mr. Amato did say that about the Lower 9th Ward residents, he really doesn't understand what happened there. I'm a New Orleans reporter who has been covering Katrina and its aftermath. At the time of Katrina, well over a majority of Lower 9 residents owned their own homes, and a majority of those had flood insurance. Unlike the damage in most cases occurring in Sandy, their homes were severely damaged or destroyed by the failure of an improperly built, federally-constructed floodwall that allowed a 16.5-foot high wave of water to enter their neighborhood, which was an average 4 feet below sea level. Thanks to a 1928 law, the Army Corps of Engineers is immune from damage lawsuits involving such flood protection structures they've built. Many homes were swept off their foundations. The area had the largest death toll of any in New Orleans during Katrina, with more than 5 percent of its residents losing their lives: http://www.nola.com/hurricane/index.ssf/2009/08/answers_are_scarce_in_study_of.html The city government refused to allow residents to return to their homes, for safety reasons, for more than two months, and actually made an abortive attempt to have the Army Corps of Engineers tear down many of the damaged houses until stopped by a team of civil rights lawyers. The city and the local electric utility also made decisions resulting in the Lower 9 being the last area of the city to have sewer, water and electric service restored -- in some cases more than a year after the storm. In the aftermath of the storm, FEMA made available "Katrina trailers" for those wanting to rebuild, but only if sewer, water and electric service was available at their building site. By the time services were restored in the Lower 9, the trailers were no longer available because of concerns raised about formaldehyde used in building the trailers. The state developed a federally-funded Community Development Block Grant program called "Road Home" to help homeowners rebuild. The rules for the program provided that homeowners could be eligible for up to $150,000, based on the pre-Katrina value of their homes, minus any flood insurance money. The majority of homes in the Lower 9 were valued at $150,000 or less, and most were much less. Homeowners in that area did receive payments for the flood insurance, if they had it, but the majority of residents had to live on that money for as much as a year before they could return. The result is that today, many lots are empty, except where non-profit organizations such as Brad Pitt's Make It Right Foundation stepped in to help. It's not that the residents there did something wrong. It's that the variety of federal, state and local government systems did not work to get them back into their homes, for those who wanted to return.
Chief Wahoo April 23, 2014 at 11:31 AM
Mark. Don't listen to Amato. He is just another bloated ignorant NJ puppet. He couldn't find Louisana on a map.
John Walton April 23, 2014 at 03:32 PM
It is upsetting that ignorant Amato would make such ridiculous statements and, unfortunately, there are many uninformed people who would take what he says as fact and not ridiculous made up stories.

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