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Investigation Reveals Sandy Energy Grant Program Riddled With Errors

Meanwhile, Berkeley Township, Cresskill, East Brunswick, Fair Lawn, Mahwah, Manville, Tenafly, Union, and Washington Township (Warren County) are among the municipalities that got credit for energy audits they never actually conducted. Without those added points (or in the case of Cresskill – the combination of points in both categories), they wouldn’t have received an allocation through this program.

To complicate matters even further, Rahway is in a class of its own, with three of its generator requests accidentally entered multiple times on the score sheet, but assigned a different number of points in each instance.

Hoboken Up Close

What happened when NJ Spotlight slid Hoboken's application under the microscope?

According to documents we reviewed, Hoboken submitted seven requests totaling about $100 million for HMGP funding, for everything from building a two-mile long floodwall to flood-proofing the city’s historic library to turning vacant land into parks to reduce stormwater runoff.

It was ambitious, and after Mayor Zimmer came forward with her allegations that Christie administration officials had threatened withholding Sandy aid money, the governor’s office issued a press release portraying Hoboken as foolish for asking for so much.

But it turns out $100 million wasn’t the highest request, and it wasn’t out of the ballpark given what several other municipalities had requested.

Documents NJ Spotlight received in response to public records requests show Brick Township, for example, requested a total of $241 million, and the City of Elizabeth -- which, though larger, suffered much less damage than Hoboken -- asked for funding for 21 projects totaling $62 million.

As with other municipalities, all of Hoboken’s non-energy-related requests were lumped together under “Local Resiliency Projects” and were passed along to the county OEM, for officials to make the spending decisions. The state ended up giving Hudson County a total of $1.7 million, which it them distributed 13 ways, taking $136,000 for itself and giving equal amounts to each of the dozen municipalities within its borders.

As for the energy-related request Hoboken had made -- $1.7 million for 12 backup generators -- the city was notified in October that it would receive just $142,080 through the Energy Allocation Initiative.

But according to a close review of the data -- including an analysis of the state’s internal scoring spreadsheet and an examination of how letters of intent from various municipalities were treated -- it appears that Hoboken’s application was handled differently from others, and it received substantially fewer points than it should have.

Brick officials bundled their requests for nine different generators into a single letter of intent totaling $1.260 million And they attached an itemized list breaking down how much each generator would cost.

Hoboken similarly submitted a single letter of intent for 12 generators totaling $1,770,000.

But in Brick's case, the working group gave the township a separate line item for eight of the nine generators (the ninth was excluded for reasons that are unclear). This process worked greatly to Brick’s advantage, since it gave the township eight opportunities on the score sheet to get funding. And each request that earned at least the minimum threshold of 80 points was guaranteed coverage of project cost, up to $142,080. In the end, several of Brick’s requests crossed that threshold, and it received an overall allocation of $380,000.

In Hoboken’s case, rather than getting separate line items for each of its 12 requests, the city inexplicably received just three line items, labeled on the score sheet as "Public Works Department," “Emergency Medical Service,” and “Shelter.”

Further, NJ Spotlight obtained a list from NJ Clean Energy of all municipalities and local government departments that have conducted Local Government Energy Audits. We confirmed with the NJ Board of Public Utilities that this was the same data the working group had used to award points in the “BPU Energy Audit” category. It was found upon examination that Hoboken improperly received credit for a Public Works Department audit it had never completed, but did not receive credit for eight of its other generator requests.

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