Cumberland County officials want the state to take a new approach in its handling of the county’s Delaware Bay communities damaged by Hurricane Sandy.
The county wants the state to use money designated for the voluntary buyout of properties damaged by the storm or located in flood-prone areas for more community-related purposes.
Those purposes, according to a resolution adopted unanimously by the Cumberland County Board of Chosen Freeholders, would include shore protection and other public health projects, such as sewage-treatment plants.
Changing the way the money is spent would provide the long-term protection and sustenance of an estimated $200 million commercial fishing and clamming industry and tourism economy along Delaware Bay between the Maurice and Cohansey rivers, county officials said. Those activities provide jobs that the county desperately needs, they said.
The request, approved Tuesday, comes at a time when a special committee is preparing development and stabilization proposals for the county’s bayshore, Cumberland County Freeholder Doug Long said.
“We’re simply asking the state to put a stay on the buyout program,” Long said. “I don’t see how you can put together a plan if the state is buying properties while you’re doing it.”
Long said the shore protection and improvement projects sought by the county are crucial to protecting businesses and homes along the Delaware Bay.
“There are people there that are in distress and that need help,” he said. “There are also businesses there, and we’re talking millions of dollars in ratables, that need help.”
State Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Larry Hajna said while state officials are willing to discuss the county’s request, there is little chance that the buyout money can be diverted for other purposes.
“We can’t redirect the money,” he said. “This is federal money. It comes from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.”
Hajna said DEP has other programs that might be able to help the county fund its projects.
Winds and waves battered small communities such as Gandys Beach, Fortescue, East Point and Bay Point along Cumberland County’s Delaware Bay shoreline during Hurricane Sandy.
The storm left many homes with damage and pushed a few into the bay. Sanitary systems were also compromised, roads were left covered with sand and protective dikes that hold back water from Delaware Bay and the Maurice River were breached.
According to the resolution, much of the damaged suffered along Cumberland County’s bayshore was “a direct result of a failure to invest in and maintain infrastructure projects.”
Cumberland County “should be entitled to receive the same consideration and dedication of resources to rebuilt like North Jersey shore towns in an effort to sustain our industry and quality of life,” the resolution continues.
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