The Hurricane Sandy relief package, which the Senate is expected to approve this week, will help New Jersey communities devastated by the effects of the storm. One of those communities is Seaside Heights. Mayor Bill Akers told NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider that without the relief aid, his community would no longer be able to be a resort area. He also said he is satisfied with the progress that has been made since the storm hit.
Akers said the Sandy relief package will affect Seaside Heights in a few different ways. He said FEMA is going to be funding several projects for Seaside Heights and other shore communities. “We’re hoping that it comes in the form of CBG — community block grants — that will also be money that can be forgiven and not have to be repaid whether it’s going to be 25 percent or 10 percent, whatever it’s going to be, the community share,” he said.
The money will be used for a variety of purposes, according to Akers. Projects include repairing the boardwalk, buildings along the boardwalk, lighting and plumbing. Both lifeguard headquarters were damaged and need to be repaired and three buildings are missing off the boardwalk that have to be replaced. He also said the electronics in the wells need to be replaced and upgrades must be made for the electric facilities. “We have a bill that’s outstanding for just about a million dollars for the out-of-state repair crews that have come in and did the emergency repairs to get us back up and running,” he said.
Not receiving the financial help could devastate the community, according to Akers. “If you didn’t get this money, you would have to make a hard choice. Do you want to go back to as you were or you would have to change your identity and not be a resort community anymore because we could not rebuild without this money,” he said. “There’s no way that the tax base could support it.”
Even with the relief aid, Akers said Seaside Heights won’t be the same as it was before the storm. He isn’t sure if the second pier will be rebuilt because just one is committed. But as of now, the debris removal is complete and all water, electric and gas service has been restored to the entire town except for Hiering Avenue. “So we’re going to crawl, walk and run and we’re going to move along as quickly as possible but keeping safety in mind, that we still have to make sure we do everything, that we cross the t’s and dot the i’s,” he said.
Aside from being mayor, Akers also owns Bobber’s Family Restaurant in Seaside Heights. The business had been closed for weeks, just reopening the past two weekends. “We had to put that on the backburner along with my own family had to be put on the backburner so we could get this thing organized, up and running,” he said. “Now that we’ve done that, I can refocus some of my attention and time to making sure that the restaurant is up and running.”
While Akers said he’s not sure how many businesses will reopen, he expects as many as 85 percent of the merchants will be back doing what they were doing before the storm. But he said it doesn’t always depend on the the business owner. Sometimes business owners lease space in buildings, so it depends on what the property owner decides to do.
Akers is optimistic about the future and how far Seaside Heights has come since Sandy struck. “I think this is absolutely the best we could hope for. They did ask me that question the day after the storm and I never thought we’d be to where we are now,” he said. “I think we’re on a good time frame to be ready for Memorial Day weekend to be up and running.”