By Lauren Wanko
More than 30 Assembly members stepped onto the boardwalk in Seaside Heights today for the first time since Sandy made landfall. The destruction moved Speaker Sheila Oliver to tears.
“You look at the economic loss. Families who have lost their quality of life and people just dealing with things that they never thought they would,” Oliver said.
“You’ve taken the heart and soul of someone’s life, people who live at the shore and love the shore,” said Assemblyman Jon Bramnick.
We asked assembly members what their first priority will be in terms of a legislative response as they toured the devastated boardwalk.
“Well I think the first response is how do we rebuild and how do we do it right?” Assemblyman Lou Greenwald said. “What is the right way to do it without having a knee jerk reaction? And really taking in what we’re seeing here today and talking to neighbors in other states like Louisiana, Florida, the Carolinas and figure out how they responded to this type of tragedy.”
Oliver said, “We have to somehow craft a way, probably in partnership with the feds, to do something to help families resurrect a semblance of what daily life was for them.”
Colonel Rick Fuentes, superintendent of the State Police, says there are probably 100 or more homes that are structurally unsound.
“It’s going to be a while through the winter and into the spring before we get to a real comfort area here in terms of fixing the sewage system, some of the infrastructure to be able to let large numbers of people back on the barriers here,” Fuentes said.
On Casino Pier, crews work daily on recovery efforts without power. Officials estimate Sandy caused $45 million worth of damage to the pier alone.
The Seaside Heights Police Chief calls the pier the lifeblood of the community. But the question many are asking is just how long is it going to take to rebuild this pier and boardwalk and what will this damage mean to the summer tourism season?
“Seventy-five percent of our budget is tourism, 25 percent is based on property taxes. That’s our formula for balancing our budget. Without us being open, we’re out of business. It’s that simple. It’s worked for us all these years. We anticipate being open in some way, shape or form this summer,” said Seaside Heights Mayor William Akers.
That’s something Seaside Heights residents and beach-goers can only hope for.