LITTLE EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP - Gov. Chris Christie's decision to allocate $15 million in Sandy recovery funding to clean up of the Seaside Park boardwalk fire has local officials questioning if any of that money was supposed to come south first.
Stafford Township Mayor John Spodofora said businesses in his township and those in the southern part of the county lost a large portion of the tourist season in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, and many are still waiting on funding to rebuild.
"If this funding is going to Seaside Heights and Seaside Park for cleanup of the fire in lieu of coming down south while businesses here are still waiting, then that's certainly not right because we need to rebuild down here as much as we need to rebuild in Seaside," Spodofora said.
The township has lost more than $200 million in ratables because of Hurricane Sandy, Spodofora said.
"I would tell the businesses and residents here that are concerned about this that I need to look into this and find out all the facts and determine if this, in any way, is going to impact them, if the money is going north instead of here. I would think that all the mayors down here would need to raise a single voice if that is the case," Spodofora said.
Tuckerton Mayor George "Buck" Evans said what happened on the boardwalk at Seaside Park and Seaside Heights was horrible, but it's disheartening to see the money go north while businesses in southern Ocean County continue to wait for help.
Evans said just because there is no Ferris wheel or boardwalk, people seem to forget how devastating the storm was in the southern Ocean County mainland communities of Tuckerton, Stafford Township and Little Egg Harbor.
"I would like to see $1 million come down to Tuckerton to help businesses down here. Our marinas are getting their butts kicked. I have a feeling that sooner or later these marinas are going to sell because they can't make it, and we're going to be stuck with condos. In Tuckerton Beach there are about seven marinas that need help," Evans said.
Little Egg Mayor John Kehm said he can understand funding going to clean up the boardwalk after the fire, because the investigation found the electrical lines were compromised by sand and water as a result of Hurricane Sandy.
"But then again, was that wiring inspected prior to them reopening? I don't know. I don't know the whole story. Only the inspectors would know if it was inspected and if it wasn't, why wasn't it," Kehm said.
Last week, the New Jersey Economic Development Authority board voted to set aside $15 million in federal Sandy disaster aid for fire damage to businesses on the boardwalk in Seaside Heights and Seaside Park.
Just days after the boardwalk fire, Christie called the damage to existing structures a safety hazard that needed to be addressed quickly.
Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak wrote in an email there are separate Community Development Block Grant funding sources: housing and business.
Last week, Christie said folks need to recognize that none of the money that will be spent in Seaside Park or Seaside Heights comes out of funds to help people get back in their homes. He said the two pots of money were made separate by the Obama administration and Congress, and the money being spent in the fire's aftermath is from the $460 million that's available to aid businesses.
"So any money that's spent on the business community in this regard, you can't say, 'Oh well that takes away from homeowners,' because you couldn't use that money for homeowners anyway. So I don't have any problem with doing it this way," Christie said last week during a Statehouse news conference.
The owners of Munro's Marina in the Mystic Island section of the township were hoping for some of the money from that pot. But on Monday, the Munro family, who have used their life's savings to rebuild Munro's Marina, were denied grant funding through the New Jersey Economic Development Authority's Stronger NJ Business Grant Program.
Christi Munro said she applied for a grant of a maximum of $50,000, but on Monday was told by the EDA that the marina has too much damage. There only can be a 20 percent gap between revenue and need.
Munro's Marina is simply too damaged to get any help, but other businesses to the north will get assistance for a second time, Christi Munro said.
"It's just unbelievable that Seaside is going to be rebuilt two times and I haven't even been rebuilt once. Gov. Christie is going to give all this money to Seaside and we are a small business now being denied for an EDA grant," she said.
The logic of two separate pots of money for businesses and homeowners is lost on Joanne Irvolino, who just returned in July to her home in the Mystic Island section of Little Egg Harbor after being displaced since the storm. The section was hit hard during the storm and officials estimate almost 5,000 homes suffered significant damage.
"How about that, Gov. Christie spending all that money up in Seaside? After he hasn't even been down here once since the storm to see what we're going through," Irvolino said.
Now, almost one year since the storm rocked the small community connected by manmade lagoons, Irvolino said when she opens the windows at her home all she smells is mold. The smell is coming from homes that many still have not returned to since the storm - many on and around her street, she said.
The Sandy money going to the Seasides is not that much of a surprise to Irvolino, she said. After all, Christie loves the Seaside boardwalk and he's always there, she said.
"It's a slap in the face to the people down here. You drive down my street at night and there's maybe one light on because no one came home. Gov. Christie needs to come down when it's dark, like we are, and see we didn't come home yet," she said.
Assemblyman Brian Rumpf, R-Ocean, Atlantic, Burlington, said the Sandy money going to Seaside is from a fund earmarked for Sandy-impacted businesses that has been underutilized.
"The frustration that folks are feeling is more than understandable in the towns of Little Egg Harbor, Tuckerton and Manahawkin, as they remain in a state where serious challenges continue to exist," Rumpf said. "The fact the governor himself has not visited the Little Egg Harbor area, is that a disappointment? It's not as long as we know that he is continuing to direct his administration to assist with recovery efforts, and we know that he is working to do that."
South Spinnaker Drive neighbors Stephen Bon and John Masiejczyk disagree.
The money should not be going to clean up after the fire in Seaside Heights and Seaside Park, the men said as they stood outside their homes Monday afternoon.
"There's a sense of favoritism for the people up north in places like Seaside," said Bon who had almost two feet of water rush inside his home during the storm.
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