GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell announced Thursday that $162 million will be coming to restore wetlands, beaches, marshes and shorelines and prepare the region for future storms.
The funding will go toward 45 separate revitalization and research projects — from North Carolina to New England — with $15 million going to New Jersey, including the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge, an area damaged during Hurricane Sandy.
The money will be used to bolster the region’s coastal communities in the event of storms, said Jewell, who addressed media and officials Thursday morning at Forsythe.
Since the storm hit last year, the U.S. Department of the Interior has funded $480 million for restoration and cleanup of the coastline.
The 47,000 acres of southern New Jersey coastal habitat that make up the refuge are credited with absorbing Sandy’s fury and protecting the neighborhoods adjacent to it, Jewell said. Those 47,000 acres are in Brick Township, Absecon and Galloway.
“What we witnessed during Hurricane Sandy was that our public lands and other natural areas are often the best defense against Mother Nature,” Jewell said.
Meanwhile, the cleanup continues of boats filled with fuel, propane tanks and chemical drums. Sandy destroyed roads and dumped boats, fuel oil tanks, chemical drums and other debris across 22 miles of refuge lands.
Refuge Manager Virginia Rettig reminded the crowd that was assembled Thursday morning that they were sitting right where Sandy’s eye passed over during the storm.
The refuge was closed for about six months after Hurricane Sandy for repairs as a result of damage from the storm.
The refuge’s main roadway, Wildlife Drive, closed following the storm after the dike system suffered 15 to 20 breaches that made the road impassable. The refuge did not reopen to visitors until May.
“There were potholes, and the road was so damaged you couldn’t even access it,” Rettig said.
U.S. Rep. Frank LoBiondo spoke about the “hypocrisy caucus” in Washington, D.C., who fought against the emergency supplemental funding for storm relief.
“The Department of the Interior would have never had the dollars for these projects if we hadn’t fought the hypocrisy caucus,” LoBiondo said.
Galloway Mayor Don Purdy said the refuge is an attraction that caters to the township’s 20,000 residents. The refuge is projected to bring in about $8 million in economic activity to the region, officials said.
“This refuge brings in almost a quarter-million people each year, and that contributes to our local economy and other nearby areas, including Atlantic City. This is a special place. Nowadays, people need to stop and smell the roses sometimes,” Purdy said.
Daniel M. Ashe, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said the 45 projects that will be funded will result in learning more about what can be done to build resiliency into the region’s systems.
“We have to learn if the marshes are growing at a rate to keep up with the sea-level rise,” Ashe said to the crowd.
Ashe said when he comes to the refuge, he thinks of Edwin B. Forsythe, who it was named for, and Forsythe’s foresight to preserve the region.
“Building resiliency into these coastal areas is about foresight and investing in the future,” he said.
The $162 million in funding provides $113 million for 25 on-the-ground projects to restore coastal marshes, wetlands and shoreline, create habitat connectivity, improve flood resilience and undertake other efforts to protect nearby areas from future storms.
The funding includes $15 million for providing better protection to communities along 60 miles of the New Jersey coast, including the refuge, by restoring and enhancing salt marshes.
It also includes $4 million that will be used for infrastructure resiliency investments at the Ohmsett national oil spill response research and energy test facility in Monmouth County.
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