Public hearing set for New Jersey's plans for final round of Superstorm Sandy recovery aid

Associated Press

New Jersey plans to use most of a half-billion dollars in Superstorm Sandy recovery aid to get money to all 1,800 homeowners on a waiting list for rebuilding assistance.

A public hearing on those plans for what will be the state's final allotment of Sandy aid is scheduled for Tuesday night in Toms River. Restoring housing and expanding a fund that finances thousands of affordable rental units for low- to moderate-income families are the main priorities.

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Terry Brody, the state's storm czar, said New Jersey has gotten more than $1 billion in federal Community Development Block Grant funds into the hands of Sandy victims.

"We've tried to streamline the process as much as we can, but the fact of the matter is construction takes time, and when you layer all the federal requirements on top of it, such as historical and environmental review, we understand it takes a long time," he said. "This is a multiyear process. We have years to go before everything is completely rebuilt."

Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, said the state is not sufficiently factoring climate change into its plans.

"Seawalls and hardening structures and other programs that will not work will actually make things worse, giving people a false hope that will be washed away in the next storm," he said. "The plan does not at all deal with climate change or sea level rise or proper science."

According to the state Department of Community Affairs, as of Dec. 31, there were 4,097 homes under construction as part of the Rehabilitation, Reconstruction, Elevation and Mitigation program, New Jersey's primary aid for Sandy rebuilding; 328 homes have been finished under the program.

More than 5,800 homeowners have signed grant award agreements, and environmental reviews have been completed for 7,865. The state says this will allow funding to flow more quickly as final-round funds become available after their anticipated May approval.

Buyout offers have been made to 511 homeowners in flood-prone areas; 354 have accepted, and 261 sales have closed.

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Wayne Parry can be reached at http://twitter.com/WayneParryAC