By Lauren Wanko
One hundred days since the second-costliest storm in U.S. history made landfall, New Jersey is close to receiving the first installment of the emergency relief package. The Garden State will be allocated $1.8 billion in the form of community development block grants.
“In New Jersey I think the biggest issue here at the shore in particular is getting homeowners back in their homes and getting businesses reopened so things can start moving and beating again for the summer season,” said Gov. Chris Christie.
That’s why Christie says their goal is to use the first portion of the money predominately for homeowner and small business grant programs.
“We know that a lot of our homeowners already have debt. They’re getting insurance monies back but they may not be covering the entire cost of reconstructing their homes,” Christie said.
The state is required to submit plans to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. HUD administrators the community development block grant program.
“I think our plans should be submitted within the next week,” Christie said. “I would hope that by the end of February we’re in position to be able to be putting that money on the street.”
The governor also hopes to use some of the federal dollars on an aggressive marketing campaign to let tourists know the Jersey Shore is open for business. The grants wouldn’t be restricted to the shore region. Homeowners and small business owners would be eligible to apply across the state. Christie says he’s pleased with how the federal dollars were allocated.
“We got the single biggest chunk of money and I think that’s a testimony to how well prepared our staff was in terms of their communications with HUD and what we’ve done to assure them that we’re ready to handle this money and to get it out there effectively,” Christie said.
This morning the governor joined officials in Sea Girt, the latest stop in a string of shore town visits, as contractors work to rebuild their boardwalk. Eighty five percent of it was ripped up by the storm. Although homes were damaged, the mayor says not one house in town has to be knocked down.
Sea Girt’s mayor credits the sand dunes with protecting a majority of the town. Once 18 to 20 feet high stretching three quarters of a mile. Work is already underway to rebuild those dunes.
“Help and assistance from the federal government and state government may not always be so readily available. I think that we can protect ourselves by having a persistent dune building plan,” said Sea Girt Mayor Ken Farrell.
Locals here call it Operation Comeback — a comeback they expect to see in time for the summer tourism season. Meantime HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan is expected to visit New Jersey tomorrow to talk more about federal aid flowing into the region.