Sea Bright poised to move forward with funds in place
By KATHY CHANG
PSEG's battle with insurers over Sandy claims ends with large settlement
Atlantic Hurricane Season Threatens Early Start As Storm Brews
Feds To Require Climate Change Plans For States Seeking Disaster Relief
Expert: Hurricane Flooding Could Be Deadly In New Jersey
State moves forward with oyster research for cleaner water
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Full Stories – RECOVERY RREM 101 for NJ Sandy Homeowners
Thousands of lives along the Jersey Shore were changed by Sandy. This video is part 1 of APP's 101 look at the RREM program. Read the "RREM: Where did everybody go?" story to find out why only about half of those that applied remain in the program.
Asbury Park Press
Back to Top Why is Sandy spending slowing? 3 things to know
Asbury Park Press
More than $1.2 billion in disaster recovery funds have been spent on housing in New Jersey since superstorm Sandy, according to the latest performance report from the state to its federal benefactors.
However, New Jersey started the new year off by squandering the momentum that had propelled spending on home rebuilding to rise by nearly 40 percent by the end of 2014.
In a new quarterly report to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, New Jersey disclosed how it was spending the $3.3 billion in disaster relief money that had been pledged to the state. The final round of $502 million in federal aid meant to advance the housing recovery is expected to be made available to the state later this spring.
So what did we learn from this latest update?
1. The rate of spending slowed down to start the year
A total of $180.3 million in disaster relief was spent during the first three months of 2015. That figure is in line with what the state was distributing in the middle of last year, but way behind the $258.2 million expended in the last quarter of 2014.
Much of that is shortfall comes from the Reconstruction, Rehabilitation, Elevation and Mitigation (RREM) program, which spent $86.1 million from January through March versus $144.7 million in the preceding three months. RREM is the state's largest recovery initiative, providing up to $150,000 per eligible homeowner to rebuild and elevate their home.
Most homeowners whose projects were paid for with the second round of disaster aid received their advance in the fall, meaning there just weren't as many projects in need of start-up funding in the first three months of this year, said Lisa Ryan, spokeswoman for the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, which is directing most of the Sandy recovery in the state.
The report does not directly address the slowdown but contends that the spring construction season will push the program forward and makes note that 950 homes, including 419 in the first quarter, have been rebuilt — although not necessarily elevated. That compares with 353 homes total as of mid-January.
As of the beginning of April, 89 percent of applicants had signed their grant award and were at least preparing to enter the construction phase of their projects, according to the report.
"Currently, the program is finishing approximately 40 homes a week and disbursing over $5 million a week," the report states.
2. Lottery coming for rental assistance
About 3,200 applications were received for the Sandy Tenant-Based Rental Assistance Program, which provides up to 24 months of rental assistance to low- or moderate-income households who were displaced by Sandy. There is only enough funding for 1,400 participants so a lottery will be conducted before the summer, according to the report.
However, the distribution of assistance in each county will mirror the level of damage sustained during Sandy. This is in line with a settlement the state agreed to last year which required more Sandy aid to be prioritized for Monmouth and Ocean, two of the hardest-hit locations.
3. More than 1,000 applied for the LMI Homeowners Rebuilding program
Another program for New Jerseyans of modest means was launched in the first quarter. More than 1,000 homeowners applied for the LMI (Low- and Moderate-Income) Rebuilding Program, which is basically the RREM program but only available to those who meet certain income thresholds — $69,800 for a family of four in Monmouth and Ocean counties, for instance.
The window to apply closed on March 20 and the applications are currently under review for eligibility. Those who are determined to have qualified will find out before July, the report states.
How much is the state spending on disaster aid?
Just over $1.2 billion in disaster aid from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has been spent in New Jersey since superstorm Sandy. The state reports every three months to HUD to tell them how much and in what ways the state is using those funds.
2015 - 1st quarter $180.3 million
2014 - 4th quarter $258.2 million
2014 - 3rd quarter $175.5 million
2014 - 2nd quarter $177.5 million
2014 - 1st quarter $101.2 million
2013 - 4th quarter $123.9 million
2013 - 3rd quarter $190.2 million
Source: New Jersey Department of Community Affairs
Back to Top Sea Bright poised to move forward with funds in place
By KATHY CHANG
SEA BRIGHT — With a total of more than $16 million in grant funding received to date since superstorm Sandy, this stormravaged borough is moving forward.
“The per capita in grant funding in print is eye-popping — $16,235.81,” Mayor Dina Long said. “I would say we have done pretty well.”
Where's the story? 13 Points Mentioned
Long’s comments drew a round of applause from residents at a town hall meeting on March 31. They came to hear about conceptual design plans for the new borough facilities that include a beachfront community center and municipal complex.
The post-Sandy grant funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) totals about $16.2 million, including $8 million in funding for repair of the seawall.
In addition, $1.34 million has been provided by the state Economic Development Authority for the streetscape project; $250,000 has been allocated in planning grants; and $2,000 has been given to the Sea Bright Farmers Market by Sustainable New Jersey.
The mayor discussed some of the post- Sandy projects that are underway.
One project is an upgraded streetscape for the downtown business district running from Center Street to the Rumson bridge, funded with $1.34 million in Community Development Block Grants through the Economic Development Authority. Long said the state is close to providing the full amount of the grant to the borough. A contract is awarded, and construction will start in October with an expected completion date of spring 2016.
The elements of the streetscape project include new sidewalks with paver borders, streetlights, landscaping, bike racks and signage for wayfinding.
The New Jersey Department of Transportation (DOT) project on Ocean Avenue will resurface and restripe the roadway as well as provide 4-foot-wide bike lanes in both directions from Sandy Hook to Monmouth Beach.
In addition, there will be front-out, angled parking on the west side of Ocean Avenue in the same area as the streetscape. New signage for both the bike lanes and parking will be included.
Long said the design is complete, but the schedule is dependent upon completion of work on a new water main.
The expected completion date for the streetscape is spring 2016.
Some residents expressed concerns about safety issues related to the two bike lanes, citing accidents involving bicyclists.
Resident Barbara Reich said once the bike lanes are implemented, a speed limit restriction should be placed on bicyclists.
Councilman Charles Rooney III said he understands the safety concerns that have been raised.
“This is a beach town where people ride bikes during the summer,” he said, suggesting that parking should only be on the business side of the street.
The boroughwide landscaping plan encompasses planting areas throughout Sea Bright.
Borough engineering firm T&M Associates has developed a preliminary plan that was approved by the council. The plan required DOT approval for any planting along Route 36. Additional funding would be required to implement the full plan, Long said.
New lights with banner arms have been ordered for the municipal parking lot that will be installed this month.
Hazard mitigation funding is in place to replace and raise the six bulkheads at Beach Way, Beach Street, Center Street, River Street, South Street and Osbourne Place, and a new stormwater pump station will be installed at Osbourne Place. A contractor has been selected, and a contract is being drafted, Long said.
The state has completed the purchase of the Anchorage apartment complex, and demolition is complete. The lot will be enclosed with a split-rail fence and seeded with grass in the short term. A conceptual plan was developed pro bono for a waterfront park.
“Some donated funding is identified, and discussions on how to implement the plan in a timely manner are ongoing,” Long said, adding that state approval of final plans is required.
For more information, visit seabrightnj.org.
Back to Top PSEG's battle with insurers over Sandy claims ends with large settlement
The parent company of the state's largest utility has reached settlements worth more than $200 million with insurance providers over claims from Hurricane Sandy, according to a quarterly filing, ending a legal dispute stemming from the October 2012 storm.
PSEG filed a lawsuit in the summer of 2013 claiming that its insurers wrongly denied the company full coverage for its losses during the storm. A state Superior Court judge in Essex County sided with PSEG in that case in March, finding that the company's damages from storm surge were not subject to a limit for flooding.
The company, whose PSE&G unit provides electricity to 2.2 million customers throughout New Jersey, released details about the settlements in a quarterly financial report filed on Monday. The legal news service, Law360, first reported those details.
The company said it reached a settlement with certain insurers for $159 million in March and then last month "PSEG reached settlements with the remaining insurers for an additional $54 million."
PSE&G spokeswoman Karen Johnson said "the total amount of insurance recovery is $264 million, most of which is for damage to PSEG Power's generation plants."
Johnson said $50 million was received in 2013 and the rest was recovered in the latest settlements.
"The claims related to Superstorm Sandy insurance coverage are now fully resolved," Johnson said.
Back to Top NFIP
ENVIRONMENT Atlantic Hurricane Season Threatens Early Start As Storm Brews
Bloomberg News, May 6, 2015
The Atlantic hurricane season officially begins June 1, but nature often ignores humanity’s best attempts to corral it with the calendar.
There’s a 40 percent chance the Atlantic may churn out the season’s first storm along the U.S. East Coast by May 10, according to the National Hurricane Center in Miami. If a storm forms, it will likely be a subtropical system, a sort of hybrid between a regular storm and a true tropical one.
An area of low pressure is moving off North America into the warm ocean waters off Florida, and the combination of the two may provide the building blocks for what would be named Ana.
“This is pretty prime example of how they might form early in the season,” said Alan Reppert, a senior meteorologist with AccuWeather Inc. in State College, Pennsylvania.
There’s a pattern to a normal Atlantic hurricane season. In the first few months, storms often form along the U.S. coast from the Gulf of Mexico to North Carolina when a weather front moves into the ocean. Reppert said these storms tend to be weak because they develop close to land and don’t have a lot of time to strengthen.
Later in the season, the main formation area shifts to the coast of Africa near the Cape Verde Islands. This is where some of history’s most deadly hurricanes have begun. At the end of the season, in late October and November, activity is often focused in the Caribbean Sea.
Subtropical Storm Andrea formed on May 6 off the mid-Atlantic coast in 2007, the eighth-earliest in records going back to 1851 and the first May cyclone since 1981, according to the hurricane center.
On May 18, 2013, Tropical Storm Alberto grew out of a system off the coast of the Carolinas, in much the same way that Ana could form.
Right now, the water in the area of the Gulf Stream is about 79 degrees Fahrenheit (26 Celsius), or “just barely warm enough for tropical storm formation,” said Bob Henson, a meteorologist with Weather Underground in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
The current system is forecast to move “generally northward,” the hurricane center said, no threat to oil and gas operations in the Gulf of Mexico. The Gulf accounts for about 4 percent of U.S. natural gas production and 17 percent of oil output.
The hurricane center hasn’t predicted a track for the system. Forecasting models are designed to work with actual storms, and before a system has truly developed a certain amount of fudging has to go into the calculations.
Until then it’s time to sit and wait, and ponder that while the official start of the Atlantic hurricane season is three weeks away, nature isn’t in a waiting mood.
Back to Top Feds To Require Climate Change Plans For States Seeking Disaster Relief
By Lydia Wheeler
The Hill, May 6, 2015
A new Federal Emergency Management Agency policy requiring states to address climate change before they can become eligible for grant funding is drawing fire from congressional Republicans.
The regulations, part of a FEMA State Mitigation Plan Review Guide issued last month, are not set to take effect until next March. But lawmakers are demanding an explanation for the rules now.
In a letter to FEMA Administrator W. Craig Fugate, the lawmakers said they’re concerned that the agency’s decision will create unnecessary red tape in the disaster preparedness process.
“As you know, disaster mitigation grants are awarded to state and local governments after a presidential major disaster declaration,” they wrote. “These funds are crucial in helping disaster-stricken communities prepare for future emergencies.”
The letter was signed by Sens. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), David Vitter (R-La.), John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), Bill Cassidy (R-La.) and James Lankford (R-Okla.).
In the revised guide, the agency said mitigation planning regulation requires consideration of the probability of future hazards and events to reduce risks and potential dangers.
“Past occurrences are important to a factual basis of hazard risk, however, the challenges posed by climate change, such as more intense storms, frequent heavy precipitation, heat waves, drought, extreme flooding and higher sea levels, could significantly alter the types and magnitudes of hazards impacting states in the future,” FEMA said in its guide.
But in their letter, the senators said climate change is still being debated, citing “gaps in the scientific understanding around climate change.”
The letter goes on to ask FEMA to explain which statutory authority the agency relied on to require states to consider climate change, whether or not the agency still agrees with its 2012 statement that hurricanes follow a cycle of increased and decreased activity over decades and how much it will cost states to comply with the new requirement.
In a January White House blog post about a new flood standard for federal investments, Fugate and then-presidential adviser John Podesta (who has since joined the Hillary Clinton camp) recognized the effects of climate change.
“Effects of climate change will make extreme weather events more frequent and more severe,” they wrote. “And the climate is changing — earlier this month, NASA and NOAA announced that 2014 was the hottest year on record globally, meaning that 14 of the 15 hottest years in recorded history have happened this century.”
FEMA’s new requirements will take effect March 6, 2016.
Back to Top Expert: Hurricane Flooding Could Be Deadly In New Jersey
Residents should plan well in advance of any storm threat because potential exists for worse impact than Sandy, he says.
The storm surge that accompanied Hurricane Sandy brought flood waters well inland, threatening lives and destroying thousands of homes.
But the director of the National Hurricane Center says even thousands in New Jersey could die in flooding from a hurricane, according to a report in the Asbury Park Press.
Rick Knabb, who has been director of the National Hurricane Center since June 2012, said the impact from another major hurricane could be significant if residents don’t heed warnings.
“Yes, lots of lives could be lost in the next hurricane if people don’t plan ahead with evacuation planning and if they don’t heed the evacuation instructions from emergency managers,” Knabb said as he spoke with reporters and meteorologists during the federal government’s 2015 East Coast Hurricane Awareness Tour stop at the Federal Aviation Administration’s William J. Hughes Technical Center in Egg Harbor, according to the Press.
Former hurricane center director Neil Frank warned in 1985 that at least 5,000 people could die in New Jersey if a major hurricane struck the state, according to the report. Sandy killed at least 159 people in the U.S., 40 of them in New Jersey, and caused an estimated $30 billion in damage in the Garden State.
In the days and weeks that followed Sandy’s landfall on Oct. 29, 2012, estimates were released that the surge -- which reached as much as a mile inland on the western side of Barnegat Bay -- had exceeded not only the 50-year storm level but the 100-year storm.
“This isn’t a 100-year event; it’s a 500-year event,” Freeholder Joseph H. Vicari said in December 2012. FEMA maps released at the time showed water had breached homes along Mantoloking Road and in Sandy Point in Brick, flooded properties throughout Silver Bay, Green Island, Silverton, Shelter Cove and other bayfront communities in Toms River.
It’s an experience Sandy survivors will never forget, particularly those like Charlie Lord of Lavallette, who tried to ride out the storm -- and later said he’d nearly made a fatal mistake.
“My wife wanted to leave but I said no,” Lord said, in a November 2012 interview with the Patch, a few days after he finally got off the island. “Next time, I’ll go.”
Back to Top State moves forward with oyster research for cleaner water
Daily Record TRENTON— New Jersey has taken a step toward allowing experimental oyster colony research projects to be placed in polluted waterways to help clean the water, despite concerns by the state Environmental Protection Department that poachers might steal and sell them, potentially sickening customers and damaging the state’s $800 million shellfish industry. A state senate committee approved a bill Monday that would force the state to allow research colonies, with steps to conceal their whereabouts from potential thieves. It now goes to the full senate. At issue are research projects like one undertaken five years ago by the NY/NJ Baykeeper environmental group in the polluted waters of Raritan Bay before the state made them rip out the colonies. Baykeeper and Rutgers University established colonies off Keyport, designed to use the shellfish’s natural filtering mechanisms to strain impurities from the water. Five years later, with environmentalists impatient to resume planting such oyster gardens in polluted waterways, the DEP and the state’s shellfish industry still have the same concerns about poaching. “We are definitely concerned if someone eats a polluted oyster and gets sick,” said Scott Mackey, a spokesman for the Garden State Seafood Association. “It would have a real impact on the seafood industry.” John Hazen, director of legal affairs for the DEP, said the agency is developing regulations that could permit such colonies. In the meantime, he added, “We still do have the same concerns about risk to the entire industry.” Sen. Gerald Cardinale, a Bergen County Republican, supports the bill, noting the vast potential improvement to water quality that oysters could provide. He said concerns about poaching are not valid because the research oysters are too small to be commercially viable — about 2 ½ inches long, compared with 5-inch oysters sold on the open market. Debbie Mans, executive director of the Baykeeper group, said the issue needs to be resolved. “I was told in the summer of 2010 that DEP was going to fix this,” she said. “We are now almost five years later and we still don’t have a solution. It is simply not acceptable that because the DEP has underfunded its shellfish program that we still can’t do this kind of work.” Mans said the colonies are invisible from the land, adding the oysters are ensconced in concrete balls and metal cages that make them extremely difficult to access, even if poachers found them. She said local police can do periodic spot checks from the shore, ensuring that no one is wading out or hovering over them in boats. Environmental groups are establishing oyster colonies in other parts of the state, including an effort by the American Littoral Society to create an oyster reef off Berkeley Township in Barnegat Bay, as well as in Delaware Bay where they function as speed bumps for waves during severe storms, making them useful for storm protection and to aid water quality. Those waters are not considered polluted like the Raritan Bay. Baykeeper and Rutgers also established successful test colonies of oysters at the Navy pier at Earle Naval Weapons station in Raritan Bay, where the Navy’s boat-mounted machine guns provided round-the-clock security for the baby shellfish. The colonies thrived until Superstorm Sandy, proving that the water conditions are hospitable for oysters. Back to Top WORKSHOPS & MEETINGS