ENVIRONMENT

Former DEP Commissioner Says All Eyes Will Be On How Sandy Money is Used

Hurricane Sandy is long gone but there is this growing and persistent debate within the state about how we deal with all the damage that’s been done. And from the vantage point of Mark Mauriello, former Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), it’s hard to tell who’s responsible for what in the recovery effort. Mauriello tells NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider that the first order of business will be persuading Congress to provide the financial aid states need to begin the recovery process.

Gov. Christie, he says, has already provided the damage estimates for a supplemental package that could bring some aid to the state.

“I think a lot of folks are waiting to see how that money will be spent beyond the recovery needs of the residents. Certainly there’s a lot of work to do but it will be interesting to see how those dollars do get spent.”

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Despite the sense of urgency to rebuild, Mauriello says he hopes the rebuilding process involves careful consideration of how to minimize future damage when a similar event occurs.

“I think we have to look at all the options and clearly there are places where reconstruction is appropriate in place,” said Mauriello. “On the other hand, there are some areas that sustain damages over and over again where it might be the time to look at do we rebuild in place or do we pull back a little bit from the hazards from the erosion areas and relocate structures that we know will be subject to damage in the future. The benefit of that is that it also provides additional space in which to construct dunes and re-establish some natural protection for the benefit of the community.”

The reliance on FEMA by states during the rebuilding stage have called into question the expanded role of FEMA which was never intended to become a recovery agency. According to Mauriello, the issue is not so clear cut.

“Anytime you have a federal program of this magnitude and with this amount of money clearly there are going to be a lot of areas that one could look at and suggest improvement and streamline, the key is really to get the resources where they’re most needed,” said Mauriello. “Folks are returning right now, people are uncertain about the extent of coverage and claim payments, reconstruction of the homes whether they rebuild their homes and if so how do they do it, a lot of these questions are lingering.”

Recently, there was speculation that the outgoing EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson was considering a run for governor. The Star-Ledger reported that Jackson responded in an email to that she would not run for governor in 2013.

Mauriello says he would be surprised if she decided to run.

“While I don’t know what her intentions are, I do know that the past four years have been very challenging and difficult. My sense is that she probably need sot take a deep breath, relax, spend a little more time with her family, rather jumping into another fire.