STAFFORD TOWNSHIP — Gov. Chris Christie told the audience at his 100th town hall meeting that New Jersey needs to rebuild the right way, but it will take time.
Christie said Stafford Township is the heart of where New Jersey is going to be rebuilt, and that is why the township was chosen for the town hall meeting.
“When places like this are rebuilt, we’ll know New Jersey is back from the storm,” Christie said.
The Jersey Shore in the summer of 2013 will not look like the shore of the summer of 2012, Christie told the standing-room-only crowd at Wednesday’s meeting.
“There’s not enough time for all the beaches to be replenished and all homes and businesses to be rebuilt. We need to make the Jersey Shore functional and livable again,” Christie said. He added that one-third of towns are finished with cleanup and 3 million cubic yards of debris have been removed from the state since the Oct. 29 storm.
Christie took the floor at St. Mary’s of the Pines gymnasium just after 3 p.m. as a video of storm damage from Hurricane Sandy was played. Stafford Township Mayor John Spodofora said there were an additional 200 people in an overflow classroom where a television had been set up.
“There’s no question in my mind that this showing is a result of Hurricane Sandy. People are looking for answers,” Spodofora said.
Joanna Andreo, of the Beach Haven West section of Stafford Township, said her home on Greg Drive was not fully functional and livable. Through tears, she called on Christie for help because she was fearful that her home on the water will be no more.
Beach Haven West is a modest community of bungalows and other homes on slabs along lagoons 25 feet from the water, and homeowners are being told they have to raise their homes, Andreo said.
Spodofora said 4,600 homes in that section were substantially damaged or destroyed during Hurricane Sandy.
But the raising of these homes and increases in insurance costs and taxes may force the American dream out of the grasp of many, Andreo said as she started to cry.
“My advice is, don’t give up yet,” Christie told her.
Christie said that after the storm he spoke with President Barack Obama about the “different Jersey Shore,” compared with Long Beach Island and Mantoloking. There are parts, such as Beach Haven West, that are not stacked with multi-million-dollar homes owned by celebrities.
“We don’t want it to be a haven for the wealthy. We want it to be a place where all New Jerseyans can come and own a piece of it,” he said.
But Christie also asked the crowd for patience as the state waits on federal funding after the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Sandy aid bill Tuesday night.
“When the president signs this, don’t expect that the next day I’ll be on your doorstep with a check,” he said.
Although the aid vote was delayed, Christie said he thinks Congress understands now that New Jersey will not accept anything less and doesn’t deserve anything less.
“They’re a little delayed and a little late for the party, but if you’re coming with $60 billion you can come late to the party,” he said.
Christie said homeowners should hold out for another four to six weeks as the state prepares a grant program to help with the cost of rebuilding.
When talk turned to rebuilding, members of the audience also voiced concerns about new advisory base flood-elevation maps released last month by the Federal Emergency Management Agency that some say have delayed the start of rebuilding.
The maps designate homes on the water in mainland bay communities, along with bayfront homes on barrier islands, to be added to risk flood zones. This comes with increased elevation requirements when rebuilding, which also means increased rebuilding costs.
Christie showed his frustration when he spoke about the maps and said people cannot sit around for 18 to 24 months and not know how to rebuild because people will walk away and abandon homes.
“I’m making this decision about elevation and where the maps are going to be next week. I’m tired of waiting. The advisory maps coming out now will not be finalized for two years,” he said as the crowd erupted with applause.
Marina owners raised concerns about rebuilding and jump-starting their businesses. Tom Paxton, owner of Great Bay Marina in Tuckerton, said he has received no help from his insurance company, as his docks are not insured, and no help from the federal government.
“We need to find out how we can get grants to rebuild our docks because we don’t have the money to do it,” Paxton told Christie.
Christie told Susan Scott, owner of Beach Haven Yacht Club Marina, that he planned to “sic” the state Commissioner of Banking and Insurance Kenneth E. Kobylowski on the insurance company that has not provided assistance.
Christie said he also anticipates having a large and robust grant program for businesses to get them back on their feet because loans are not going to get it done. The program will have to be approved by the federal government and will most likely be administered by the state Economic Development Authority.
Joe Mazzola, of Stafford Township, told Christie there are a lot of seniors in the area, and they need help rebuilding because they do not have the means to do it on their own.
“What can be done with the seniors here who have lost everything? Their homes are in lagoons, broken down, and they have no money. What can be done for them?” Mazzola asked.
There will be a host of programs, not just for seniors, to assist the displaced in finding housing and also rebuilding, Christie said. Christie also urged the crowd to work with insurance companies, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and pursue grants when they are available.
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