Officials in southern Ocean County’s mainland communities said they felt snubbed after President Barack Obama’s visit and tour of the Jersey Shore with Gov. Chris Christie on Tuesday.
The group of mayors said they would have liked the president and Christie to have come to southern Ocean County’s mainland communities to see the damage that is still being cleaned up.
During his stop at the shore under rainy skies in Asbury Park, Obama spoke of the progress that has been made since Hurricane Sandy pummeled the shore in October, but also said there is still a long way to go.
Christie told the crowd in Asbury Park that New Jersey has made great progress but also acknowledged there is still so much more to do.
“Everybody is ready to welcome America back to the Jersey Shore this summer and so am I,” Christie said.
For residents in mainland communities about 60 miles south of Asbury Park, returning to a normal existence has not happened yet.
Tuckerton Mayor George “Buck” Evans attended Tuesday’s event and listened as Obama spoke outside the Asbury Park Convention Hall, but he said there was no mention of the southern part of the state. Evans, along with other area officials, said there has been no effort since the storm for many elected officials to visit the southern Ocean County region.
Tuckerton doesn’t have the boardwalks or $3 million homes. And they are regular people, working their way through tough times, Evans said.
“Everything is the Jersey Shore. Are we south Jersey Shore or Jersey Shore? Nothing was mentioned today further south than Union Beach, and the president was talking about being in Point Pleasant,” Evans said.
“We heard the Jersey Shore is open. I’d love to say everything in Tuckerton is open, but it’s not. We’re fighting for all our dollars down here to get everything open again in this town,” Evans said.
The Tuckerton Beach section — a 1-square-mile portion of the borough — is still picking up the pieces and fighting for assistance and through red tape, he said. The area has about 660 homes and, Evans said, potentially about 300 of them will have to be demolished and rebuilt. Evans’ home is one of them, he said.
“Sometimes people need to see residential support not just tourism support. The Jersey Shore also goes south past exit 98. That’s what people have got to realize. We seem to be the forgotten souls down here,” Evans said.
Little Egg Harbor Township Mayor John Kehm said the federal government has poured more than $1 billion into New Jersey after the storm and should want to know its reach in every area of the state.
Kehm pointed out that since Hurricane Sandy, Christie has visited Long Beach Island to tour storm damage, but has not visited Little Egg Harbor Township.
“The president should have said I know the Jersey Shore is where I’m at, but I need to see the rest of it. When he says ‘the Jersey Shore’ he probably doesn’t know about the rest of the Jersey Shore, meaning us,” he said.
When the region is referred to as the Jersey Shore it should be all of the Jersey Shore not just the tourist destinations, Stafford Township Mayor John Spodofora said.
Spodofora said it seemed like attention and visits to the areas with residential properties along the shore’s bayfront have been put on the backburner by many elected officials.
“Catering to the businesses is critical because it’s a huge part of the economy, but the reality is that we’re seven months out from the storm and it’s still mass confusion. What they need to realize is that there is more population in these mainland communities,” he said.
Assemblyman Brian Rumpf, R-Ocean, Burlington, Atlantic, said that while he can appreciate the frustration of the local mayors, he feels Christie is very much aware of the hardships being confronted on a day-to-day basis in the mainland communities.
“I am hopeful today is the day he will be able to communicate to the president just how much help is still needed,” said Rumpf, a Little Egg Harbor resident.