The nation’s taxpayers will help pay for the destroyed dunes, battered beaches and gouged geotubes left by a coastal storm that battered southern New Jersey over the course of five days in November.
A day after President Barack Obama officially declared Atlantic, Cape May and Ocean counties a disaster area, making the region eligible for federal funds, local officials welcomed the news that relief will be provided.
In the next six weeks, the Federal Emergency Management Agency will put a final price tag on the storm damage, Cape May County Emergency Management Director Frank McCall said Wednesday.
McCall said 20 to 30 federal and state officials will work out of the county’s emergency management headquarters in the basement of the Cape May County Library beginning next week.
“This is the portion of the project where checks get written,” McCall said.
But so far, the expenses attributed to the Nov. 11 to 15 storm are unofficial and likely inaccurate, according to area officials.
“The preliminary damage assessment was a snapshot of what our big damage areas were,” said Ed Conover, Atlantic County’s deputy emergency management coordinator.
“To be perfectly honest, they underestimated what the damages were,” he said.
Gov. Jon S. Corzine in November asked the federal government for more than $49 million in damages, including $27.3 million in Cape May County, $19.4 million in Ocean County and $3 million in Atlantic County.
But those figures may be higher or lower than early projections, which fluctuated following various assessments in the days after the storm.
“There does not exist at this point any releasable list for requests from our municipalities because it would be incomplete,” State Police spokesman Stephen Jones said.
Coming up with the values will be part of an intensive process, McCall said.
For example, FEMA will not pay for normal hours of emergency workers but it can pay overtime. The agency also can pay a rate for a municipality’s use of a front-end loader, he said.
The federal government’s announcement Tuesday came as welcome news in municipalities hit hard by the storm, such as Ocean City, Avalon and Sea Isle City.
“We’ve been hammered really hard so far this winter, and we’re not even out of December, yet. We’re only two days into the winter,” Sea Isle City Mayor Leonard Desiderio said.
“We’re going to have to rebuild the dunes and the beach, and if the money wasn’t coming from the federal government, unfortunately it would have to come from the city taxpayers,” Desiderio said.
Generally, sand tends to migrate and the beaches somewhat rebuild themselves, although at a slower rate than that of erosion.
“The goal is, from our perspective, to ensure the county’s coastal infrastructure is in good shape for the 2010 tourist season,” McCall said. “That’s the primary goal and secondly to ensure all the municipal functions or facilities that were damaged get done as quickly as possible.”
“This is not just about tourism, it’s about stabilizing our economy here in Cape May County, although tourism is the primary factor for the success of Cape, Atlantic and Ocean counties,” McCall said.
Ocean City saw significant damage in its northern end, particularly along East Atlantic Avenue, where dunes were lost and geotubes — the gigantic sandbags designed to block the waves — were torn or destroyed, Ocean City Administrator James Rutala said.
Still undetermined, Rutala said, is whether municipalities will be required to match a portion of the funding and how much that could cost.
“This really just starts a process to determine what projects and how much funding will be allocated to the communities,” he said.
Contact Brian Ianieri: