Towns Seek Federal Disaster Aid After Blizzard

By Brenda Flanagan

“We need help. Ortley needs help. Bad,” said Ortley Beach resident Anita Singewald.

Toms River residents cheered the news that Gov. Christie officially requested $82.6 million in federal disaster aid to help New Jersey communities in 17 counties hit by the monster blizzard that dumped up to 30 inches of snow and slammed beaches with a wind-driven storm surge that obliterated protective dunes. Taxpayers want relief.

“I hope it goes to here where it belongs,” Jean Tomes said. The money? “We really we need it so desperately.”

“I thought, good, thank God. If we can get some more help, we could use it. Because if we don’t get help, the overage we’re stuck with is going to have to go on the tax rolls. If you’re a taxpayer, you’re the ones who have to pay it,” Toms River Mayor Tom Kelaher said.

The mayor says, Toms River spent more than a $1 million on snow removal and another million to truck and spread tons of sand to replace devastated dunes.

He says they’re $2 million in the hole. “Whatever we get, I’ll be delighted,” he said.

The governor’s letter officially asks President Obama to declare a major disaster in New Jersey. He called the storm an incident “…of such severity and magnitude that an effective response is beyond the capabilities of the State and the affected county and local governments…” and that it “…put a severe strain on … local resources and budgets.”

The formal request sounded somewhat ironic, given the governor’s controversial comments about cleaning up in hard-hit shore towns.

“I don’t know what you expect me to do. You want me to go down there with a mop?” he said.

But mayors in Cape May County welcomed the disaster request. The aid would also benefit cities like Newark, that face outsize snow removal bills. However, the money is intended for public assistance. It will not offer assistance for individual homeowners, according to the state’s Office of Emergency Management.

“In the assessment we did not have enough damage to meet threshold within complex formula to be able to ask for individual assistance,” Laura Connolly, operations analyst for NJOEM, said.

Today a harp seal basked in the sun at Ortley Beach while officials at the White House examined the governor’s request. There is no timeline for approval, but with the response structure from Superstorm Sandy still in place FEMA’s ready.

“Should that event occur, so we have people in place who will be ready to be deployed or activated for the disaster. So once the declaration is received from the White House then New Jersey and the Office of Emergency Management are ready to go,” Connolly said. “It won’t be a long lead time for us to be up and running, to be able to schedule application briefings with municipalities and private nonprofits to get these projects started and get the work done.”

The process could take weeks, but for shore towns with badly eroded budgets it’s well worth the wait.