GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — Calls for transparency and criticism of the Hurricane Sandy aid process dominated the public comment portion of Tuesday night’s hearing on Sandy recovery at Richard Stockton College.
The hearing was the first of three scheduled for this month throughout the state with members of Gov. Chris Christie’s cabinet and state agencies and the public .
Brigantine resident Jane Peltonen was one of more than two dozen New Jersey residents who shared concerns with the panel. She reminded the panel of Christie’s nationally publicized visit to her hometown with President Barack Obama shortly after the storm before criticizing the response in the fifteen months that followed.
“A lot of us are still waiting,” she said. “Come back and visit us again, fifteen months later, and see only one house has been lifted by the (Rehabilitation, Reconstruction, Elevation and Mitigation aid) program.”
The meeting was attended by Marc Ferzan, executive director of the Governor’s Office of Recovery and Rebuilding; the office’s executive deputy director, Terry Brody; and leaders from the Office of Emergency Management, the Department of Community Affairs and other state agencies charged with administering Sandy aid. Ferzan and the other representatives spoke briefly before ceding the floor to the public.
The hearings have been organized to garner public feedback on the recovery process as leaders in Trenton draft a proposed amendment to the New Jersey Disaster Recovery Action Plan, which is the precursor to HUD releasing $1.46 billion for the state in the second round of Sandy recovery funding. Representatives from state agencies were also available for individual meetings before and after Tuesday’s hearing.
Ocean City resident Georgina Shanley was one of many members of the public who expressed frustration with the arduous Sandy aid process. She said many of those whose homes were damaged or destroyed by the storm have simply stopped trying after months of struggling with the Department of Community Affairs.
“It’s just been too hard on their nerves,” Shanley said. “Besides having a very damaged home and the trauma of the storm, dealing with the DCA was worse.”
Cape May County resident Steven Fenichel focused his criticism at DCA Commissioner Richard Constable, whom he called a “terrible nemesis.” Fenichel detailed his aid rejection, saying he was told he was denied for not having a FEMA registration number despite having one. He said he was rejected a second time after obtaining a new FEMA number from that organization’s Washington, D.C. office because the number had been generated after the application deadline.
When Fenichel finished his comment, Ferzan told him the commissioner wished to speak to him personally after the meeting. Later, after a few more speakers echoed issues with the complicated nature of the process, Ferzan said the state agencies must comply with strict federal regulations or face the forfeiture of aid dollars.
The second public hearing will be held today at the New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark, and a third will be held Thursday at Brookdale Community College in Middletown, Monmouth County.
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