By Brenda Flanagan
Frustrated Trenton lawmakers met to demand answers, to learn why New Jersey got a paltry $15 million in a national competition for federal Sandy flood relief when New York City won a whopping $176 million. Where did Jersey go wrong?
“HUD secretary Julian Castro told reporters, it was not a question of need. The problem was that New Jersey simply filed a weak application,” said Sen. Bob Gordon.
Jersey wanted $300 million to control flooding in the Meadowlands and protect towns like Moonachie. Castro said New Jersey’s application lost points for not offering enough state matching funds, and for not dividing the project into stages. Angry Republicans complained somebody from HUD should’ve called Jersey Democrats with warnings about possible deficiencies.
“They can’t pick up the telephone and say, ‘This thing’s not going to cut it?’ We’re going to deny the people of New Jersey money because the people that do the bean counting and do the applications didn’t do it right? Does that make any sense? Is that the message we want to send? We didn’t do the application right. That’s the message of this hearing,” Sen. Joe Kyrillos said.
HUD won’t offer a complete explanation for at least another week, leaving the committee at a distinct disadvantage today.
Invited members of the Christie administration who worked on the application didn’t show up, today, either. That annoyed Democrats.
“The administration’s going to have to respect the request. This isn’t a witch hunt. I’m not going to jump on the state. I want to know where the feds made the mistakes. Because if they made the mistakes, we can fight it. If we made the mistakes, we have to correct it,” said Senate President Steve Sweeney.
But a DEP spokesman says they’re still waiting to be debriefed by HUD. Meanwhile, environmental advocates testified the state’s application lacked a comprehensive climate change plan to address rising sea levels.
“It’s going to get worse and worse. One year when the Giants are playing the Dolphins in the Meadowlands, it’s going to be real dolphins,” said Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club Jeff Tittel.
The Hackensack Riverkeeper complained plans the DEP showed him showed flood walls crossing sensitive, deed-restricted marshes in the Meadowlands.
“As soon as I laid eyes on the map, I saw 75 things wrong with it, and very little right,” Bill Sheehan said.
The Oversight Committee will meet again on this issue and hopes to have representatives from both the state and the federal government here to explain precisely how New Jersey’s application came up $285 million short.