Arriving ahead of the northeaster Wednesday, Gov. Chris Christie visited Long Beach Island, surveying damage by Hurricane Sandy while offering encouragement to weary officials and emergency workers.
By the time Christie left, the island's streets had begun to flood at high tide, forcing some of the responders to move their equipment back to the mainland. Another high tide was expected early this morning.
Long Beach Township Police Chief Michael Bradley said police would remain on the island and maintain a command post despite the flooding.
National Guard trucks were being moved to Stafford Township because of the belief that the island's streets would be flooded again, National Guard Lt. Eric Shaw said. Shaw said the National Guard would maintain a presence on the island.
Members of the National Guard who have been stationed on LBI for the last week and volunteer firefighters from across the island lined up against a fire truck inside the Fire Department awaiting Christie on Wednesday morning.
Christie arrived in Harvey Cedars, where he spoke to a crowd at the High Point Volunteer Fire Company.
"We started in earnest getting ready for this," Christie said of the latest storm.
As far as letting people back onto the island, which the island’s mayors have asked the governor to do, Christie said he was waiting for this latest storm to pass through. Then, he said, he and local officials will come up with a plan later this week to allow people back.
"This is another reason I didn't want people back on the island. We have power now, but we don't know if we will when the storm passes," he said.
Ship Bottom Mayor William Huelsenbeck said homeowners and residents have been emailing and calling local officials, clamoring to get back to their homes.
"If you give me a crystal ball I could tell you, but I don't know. My expectation is we will sit down in 24 hours and come up with an orderly plan to repopulate the island," Christie said Wednesday.
"What happened the other day was not orderly. We shouldn't have people sitting in traffic back to the Garden State Parkway," he said of the grab-and-go operation Monday for residents to return to homes to get essential items.
Still, the governor complimented officials and responders on their actions during the hurricane.
Christie told LBI officials that they did a great job evacuating the island.
National Guardsmen evacuated about 750 people off of LBI since last week, Shaw said.
"I'd rather have them leave and be wrong than stay and be wrong," Christie said.
Christie also revealed Wednesday that it was his decision to cut natural-gas service to the island because of more than a thousand leaks in the residential lines. Officials have said it could take up to six months to restore service.
"I made the decision to shut off gas here rather than have homes blow up. I watched homes burn to the ground in Mantoloking," Christie said.
Christie said there's a chance the main gas lines on LBI may be able to be saved, which could shorten the time service is shut down.
Dump trucks in Surf City and Harvey Cedars trucked in tons of sand to place on beaches Wednesday in advance of the brunt of the northeaster, which brought wind and snow and coastal flooding.
Some 25,000 tons of sand were dumped on Harvey Cedars beaches over the past few days, Mayor Jonathan Oldham said.
In Surf City, 400 dump trucks have dumped 10,000 tons of sand on the beaches, City Councilman Peter Hartney said.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was delivering the sand, although Harvey Cedars has hired contractors and extra bulldozers to assist work being done by the corps.
Both towns have received federal- and state-funded projects to shore up their beachfront over the past several years.
Oldham and Hartney credited these projects for sparing their towns from even greater damage.
"If you look at the towns that had beach replenishment, they did much better than towns who didn't have beach replenishment," Christie said.
While Oldham said he was honored that Christie chose to come to Harvey Cedars Wednesday, the governor’s decision not to visit their towns created some bad feelings.
“I know one of his desires was to thank and encourage volunteers and workers who have put way more into this than anyone could imagine. They’ve worked around the clock. The one amazing thing about our town is the large commitment. It’s not just a job,” Oldham said.
Long Beach Township Mayor Joseph Mancini did not attend Christie’s press conference. He said he wasn’t invited, and he was busy working to address damage in the township.
“If he (Christie) had enough time to drive down here with Bob Martin from the DEP and Rick Fuentes from the State Police, what are they doing? Why aren’t they on the phone talking to us regionally?” he asked.
Mancini said he has yet to talk with Christie since Sandy. Officials have sat in on listen-only conference calls with the governor and his cabinet, so he has been unable to ask questions, he said.
Huelsenbeck also did not attend Christie’s press conference and expressed his frustration Wednesday afternoon about the lack of resources and communication the island has received from the state.
“He should have come south today, because that is where the meat and bones of the damage is. I think he should have consulted with the six mayors this morning,” said Huelsenbeck, who said he normally agrees with the governor.
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