LAW & PUBLIC SAFETY

Officials Push Bill to Devote Money to Storm Response Planning

By Brenda Flanagan
Correspondent

Pounding surf still frays some nerves down the shore as hurricane season spins into high gear with Gaston generating mid-Atlantic waves so powerful, they’re creating dangerous rip currents along Jersey beaches. The National Weather Service recently revised its 2016 hurricane forecast and now predicts more storms of higher intensity. Parts of Louisiana still molder under floodwaters resulting from so-called “1,000-year rains”. Jersey lawmakers fear catastrophic consequences here, too.

“I think the key to this is being prepared for the next storm, which is going to happen, with sea temperatures rising. The frequency of those storms and the power of those storms are much greater,” said Sen. Joseph Vitale.

“The world is changing. And as you see with what just happened in Louisiana with the flooding, every dollar we put into being prepared for storms will be well rewarded,” said Senate President Steve Sweeney.

County officials today gathered in Trenton to support a bill that would establish annual grants for county offices of emergency management — based on that county’s risk of exposure to natural disasters. The money will buy better storm response planning. Sweeney recalled the chaos when Floyd hit 17 years ago.

“You’re scattering and running and trying to figure out what to do to stop a levee from failing. So this planning will hopefully help in preparation for flood control and many other things,” Sweeney said.

County officials say they need these grants — described local budgets hard hit by both meteorological and economic storms — Atlantic, in particular.

“Everybody’s scraping dollars. We, this year, are going to possibly have four furlough days — meaning that 1,200 employees may lose a week’s worth of pay — but if we had some refunded money on some of our departments, we may be able to avoid that in the future,” said Frank Formica, chairman of the Atlantic City Freeholder Board.

Post-Sandy New Jersey’s still working on hardening its coastline. Gov. Chris Christie said on Friday that the state had obtained easements from all but 125 property owners along the shore, so the Army Corps of Engineers could complete a line of protective dunes.

“So hopefully by next year we’ll see a complete ability to protect the Jersey Shore from Cape May to the Bay Shore from any future hurricanes or other type of storms,” he said.

The grants proposed today would also pay for community outreach. Cape May County just implemented a reverse 911 emergency alert system, but all coastal towns need to coordinate, officials say.

“We have a lot of coastal communities that have a visitor population. They’re here when these storms happen. They, too, have to take ownership, they have to be prepared,” said Atlantic City Office of Emergency Management Director Vince Jones.

Sponsors say they can’t put a price tag on this program yet, but that the money would come from general funds — in time for the 2018 budget and hurricane season.