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Ocean County marina owners beg for help to recover from Sandy

LITTLE EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP — A group of 13 marina owners gathered at Munro’s Marina on Monday morning and begged for help from the government to rebuild after Hurricane Sandy, saying they must close their doors otherwise.

Standing in front of a lagoon still littered with debris and pieces of docks from the late-October storm, one by one the owners spoke out during a news conference about the lack of help, answers and guidance they have received.

“All of us have been affected in different ways, and there has been no help and no money for any of us from FEMA or SBA,” said Kristi Munro, part owner of Munro’s Marina.

Munro said her marina, which stores boats during the winter months and services vessels, is facing damage to the property of about $1.5 million.

Little Egg Harbor Township and neighboring Tuckerton are waterfront communities, but unlike the Long Beach Island beachfront towns across the bay, they are decidedly more working class. The marina owners stressed that the communities rely more on the local boating industry and cannot exist without it.

Ed Andrew, president of the Osborn Island Homeowner’s Association was not optimistic Monday about the future of the marina business in the township. If marinas close their doors, it will take away the heartbeat of the community, he said.

“It’s going to be a painful few years ahead,” Andrew said.

The marina owners are not optimistic about having a boating season 60 days from now.

Mark Hattman, owner of Sheltered Cove Marina in Tuckerton, said if he closes his doors, the borough will lose $55,000 in annual tax revenue. Hattman said Monday that he has not sold a boat since early October.

“I was just at the boat show in New York and hundreds of customers said they are not interested in visiting the Jersey Shore because there are no boat slips and they think the bay is full of houses and air conditioners,” Hattman said.

Out of the 400 boats at Hattman’s marina, about 300 are wrecked from the storm. Rebuilding will cost about $7 million between his building and docks and boats, he said.

He said he has already spent about $500,000 of his own money to try to get operations up and running again, but he needs more help.

Hattman said he was turned down in November by FEMA.

“FEMA is not in the business of helping businesses,” he said.

He submitted an application to the U.S. Small Business Administration on Dec. 7, but has not heard back yet, he said.

R. Gary Colton, spokesman for the SBA, said he did not have a breakdown of how many marinas have applied for loans, but as of Monday, $90 million has been approved in business loans through SBA. The bulk of that money is in Ocean and Monmouth counties and the largest amount is in Ocean County, Colton said.

SBA provides loans for homeowners of up to $200,000 to rebuild, to homeowners and vendors up to $40,000 for personal property, and loans to businesses for rebuilding up to $2 million, which is an Economic Injury Disaster loan.

Applicants must have reasonable credit and interest rates are available at 4 percent with up to 30 years to repay.

But still, the majority of loans awarded through the SBA are going to homeowners, he said.

“Businesses tend to spend the first few weeks after a disaster trying to get their doors open quickly and tend to put off applying right away, and homeowners apply right away and get results faster,” Colton said.

There is currently a backlog in the loan application process of about two to three weeks, Colton.

He said there will be no help from FEMA for businesses because there are currently no grant programs available for businesses, “and with the current economy, I don’t know if that will happen or not.”

On Friday, Munro attended a meeting at Pinelands Regional High School with FEMA representatives and township officials where she spoke before more than 900 people about concerns she has over marinas conforming to FEMA’s preliminary advisory flood maps introduced last month.

Those maps place the Mystic Islands section of the township in the highest risk zone and require a 4-foot increase to the base-flood elevation.

“Friday we did not get a single answer, and everyone left with more questions,” she said.

The increase in elevation would take Munro’s Marina building to 14-feet. Kristi Munro asked how she is supposed to get a boat inside a service garage that is 14 feet in the air.

The Township Committee unveiled an ordinance last month to conform to the new advisory flood maps.

“This is our life. Marinas are a family-based business and it’s unfortunate this is what it’s coming to — wipe us all out because we can’t follow new FEMA regulations,” owner Vicky Munro said Monday.

The last day the Munros had a good business day was in early October. Their service garage is still full of parts and smells of gasoline and oil, but these days not much work is taking place.

Owner Allen Munro pointed to an engine that was going to be serviced but was instead flooded with saltwater and destroyed.

Allen Munro said the marina is waiting on more than $100,000 in outstanding revenue from customers who just cannot pay. The Munros are looking at trying to come up with $400,000 to replace their building and another $150,000 to rebuild bulkheads and docks.

Township Mayor John Kehm said he has met with Kristi Munro, along with other township officials, and has pledged to provide whatever help they can.

Kehm said the Munros plan to rebuild and return to the community and the township will work with them to make it as easy as possible.

Kehm said the township will be writing to Gov. Chris Christie and area federal officials looking for help.

“I’ve been here for 42 years and this is a boating community and we need those marinas. Some of them have been here as long as I’ve been here. You have to feel for these people and they’re looking to the committee for answers, but FEMA should be here answering their questions,” Kehm said.

Contact Donna Weaver:

609-226-9198

DWeaver@pressofac.com

Follow @DonnaKWeaver on Twitter

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