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Belmar Mayor Gets Hurricane Recovery Lessons From Mississippi Town Damaged in Katrina

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Belmar was one of the hardest hit communities during Hurricane Sandy and the town’s mayor is seeking advice from a similar community in Mississippi that faced devastating damage after Hurricane Katrina. Mayor Matthew Doherty told NJ Today Senior Correspondent Desirée Taylor that he has visited Pass Christian, Miss. to learn about the recovery process there and apply it to Belmar. He said Belmar residents are also being assisted through the insurance claim process to get them back in their homes as quickly as possible.

Doherty said after Hurricane Sandy hit Belmar, he began communicating with Pass Christian, Miss. Mayor Chipper McDermott who went through a similar ordeal after Hurricane Katrina hit his community seven years ago. After corresponding through e-mail and phone calls, McDermott invited Doherty to visit his community and get a firsthand look at the recovery process.

“They’re a very similar town to us in that they’re right along the ocean and also the same size population. They’re also a tourist destination in their area along the Gulf Coast,” Doherty said. “So I was able to go down there and bring the lessons learned from down there back to Belmar as we continue to recover and rebuild from Hurricane Sandy.”

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Pass Christian is still in the recovery process. Doherty said that work is being done on the underground infrastructure, including the sewer system which was damaged by Katrina’s storm surge like Belmar’s was during Sandy. Doherty said he wants to be aggressive about fixing the sewer system, including the installation of cameras underground.

“It’s very easy to see a boardwalk that gets destroyed or houses that get hit hard. It’s more difficult to see what’s actually going on underground and many times that’s even more costly than what’s above ground,” Doherty said.

In Belmar, Doherty said 99 percent of the debris — 7,250 tons — has been removed and the town is moving into a rebuilding phase. He said the municipality has hired Epic Construction in Piscataway to reconstruct the boardwalk in time for the summer. The company is scheduled to build 1.3 miles of new boardwalk that will be substantially completed by the end of April. To ensure a speedy process, Doherty said Belmar has offered a $100,000 bonus for completion by April 30 and if the company misses the date, they will face liquidated damages of $7,500 per day every day after.

Rebuilding will be done differently than in the past to help ensure construction projects will be able to withstand future storms, Doherty said. The destroyed boardwalk was built decades ago and some of the pilings — support columns — were only six feet into the ground. Doherty said every piling in the new boardwalk will be at least 25 feet deep and be held together with hurricane straps. The boardwalk deck will be made of real wood instead of the plastic that was previously used. The goal, Doherty explained, is to make the boardwalk stronger than it was before.

“Our engineers, who are much smarter than me, believe that it would have survived the storm surge from a Hurricane Sandy so we’re building it to not just last for a year, but to last for decades and hopefully a generation,” Doherty said.

Some Belmar residents have expressed frustration with FEMA and getting the help they need to rebuild. Doherty said while generally residents are getting what they need, it’s troubling that there’s no time frame for when they’ll be able to return to their homes. He said a lot of the problems stem from the insurance companies. In some cases, residents with flood insurance and homeowners insurance have gotten conflicting stories with flood insurance companies claiming damage was done by wind and homeowners insurance companies saying the damage was caused by flooding, Doherty explained.

“One of the agencies we’re going to reach out to is the Department of Banking and Insurance to help with those families that are in a difficult position, that did the right thing, had the right insurance in place but aren’t being compensated as they should be by the insurance companies themselves,” Doherty said.

He explained that residents can reach out for help in Belmar. “In town we’ve started an advisory network of folks to help them through their claim process so they can get back in their homes as soon as possible,” Doherty said.


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