By Chief Political Correspondent Michael Aron
They’re sifting sand in Belmar, cleaning out debris before putting it back on the beach. This town of 5,800 year-round residents got hit hard by Sandy.
“I think we were the only beach that lost our entire boardwalk. We lost 1.2 miles of boardwalk,” said Belmar Mayor Matt Doherty.
Gov. Christie came here this afternoon for a town hall meeting to hear from people like Frank Sementa, owner of a beachfront bar and grill which he is rebuilding. His chief concern is a loss of customers, saying he hopes that “everyone who would normally think of the Jersey Shore doesn’t write us off.”
The governor said it was going to take a long time for towns like Belmar to fully recover and said he hopes the federal government approves a huge rescue package by New Year’s.
“I’m counting on the fact that our congressional delegation and the leaders of Congress, while I know they’re consumed with fighting and bickering with each other about the fiscal cliff and all these other things, don’t forget that people are suffering,” said Christie. “People want to rebuild their homes, they want to rebuild their businesses, they want to rebuild their schools, they want to rebuild their state.”
The governor delivered a status report and a pep talk to the residents of this storm battered shore town and urged them to do something he said doesn’t come naturally to New Jerseyans and that is be patient.
But patience was in short supply for some like one woman whose used car business got flooded out. Now, she can’t get zoning approval to reopen it elsewhere. She said “people who have been displaced out of their homes and they’ve been put into hotels or other families’ homes, my family is going to be displaced next cause we cant pay our bills.”
One man complained of a vicious cycle of bureaucracy. FEMA, he says, directs him to local municipalities only to get bounced back to FEMA. “It’s becoming like volley for serve and my head is spinning literally with legal pads with names of secretaries of towns from FEMA offices and stuff like that and it’s like ‘stop FEMA I want to get off.'”
Seven and a half weeks after Sandy, the beachfront street in this town — Ocean Avenue — is still closed to traffic.