New Jersey reps confident in post-Sandy aid for beaches

November 21, 2012 4:27:21 AM PST
New Jersey's congressional delegation is confident the region will receive however much federal money it needs to replenish beaches, house the displaced and clean up towns after Hurricane Sandy, though state officials won't be finished tallying the storm's damages until next week.

The state's two senators and 12 congressmen huddled with Gov. Chris Christie for about 90 minutes in Trenton on Tuesday to discuss priorities and strategies for recovering from the hurricane that wiped out shore homes, caused at least 34 deaths in New Jersey and left 2.76 million residents without power.

"Regardless of party, regardless of previous battles that we've had with each other, everybody around this table stood up and called and asked, 'what do we need, how can they help,'" Christie said in brief remarks after the meeting, held at the Statehouse. "I think New Jersey set an example for the rest of the country on how to work across party lines together in times of real challenge to our people."

Christie and the delegation appeared unanimous on at least two points: Republicans and Democrats would be on the same page in tackling the recovery in Washington, and the federal government would be a vital partner in the rebuilding effort.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg, a past Christie critic most notably on a canceled Hudson River rail tunnel, pledged to work with colleagues on the Senate Appropriations Committee on a federal aid package "that will allow us not only to rebuild, but also to modernize our infrastructure so we are not as vulnerable as we were in this storm."

Two veteran legislators, Reps. Frank Pallone, a Democrat, and Chris Smith, a Republican, confirmed the positive tenor of the meeting and agreed that a generous federal response was anticipated through a supplemental spending bill that will go before Congress.

"It will be looked at very carefully, but my sense is everything that is justifiable will be paid for," said Smith, who represents heavily damaged Bay Head and Point Pleasant at the shore.

Pallone is asking federal emergency management officials to waive towns' 25 percent match and pick up 100 percent of cleanup costs.

On a bipartisan basis, the leadership in the Congress is very supportive of passing additional funding bills," said Pallone, whose district includes severely damaged Asbury Park, Belmar and Keansburg, "We're not getting the kind of partisan bickering that existed in the past."

Pallone said federal emergency management officials are readying trailers for temporary long-term housing. Additionally, residences at the shuttered Fort Monmouth Army base are being reopened to house up to 600 families beginning after Thanksgiving.

Also Tuesday, the congressional delegation sent a letter to President Barack Obama asking for federal funds for beach replenishment and flood control projects, expected to cost $750 million to $1 billion for New Jersey's 127 miles of coastline. The letter was signed by the House Republicans and Democrats.

Pallone said emergency dune restoration is needed in towns like Keansburg, which lost a lot of sand in Sandy and is more vulnerable if another storm were to hit.

He said conversations also focused on buyouts of residents of towns like Sayreville, who have been flooded out several times and would like to relocate.

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