NJ Almost Finishes Out of the Money for Federal Resiliency Grants

Tom Johnson | January 22, 2016 | Energy & Environment
‘Weak application’ brings just $15 million to Garden State for disaster readiness, while NYC wins $176 million

The federal government yesterday handed out $1 billion to 13 states and communities for disaster and resiliency projects, with New Jersey winning $15 million, a fraction of what other jurisdictions received.

U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro blamed New Jersey receiving far less than neighboring states on it submitting a “weak application on several measures.’’

In comparison, New York City won $176 million; New Orleans, $141 million; and Virginia, $120 million. New Jersey’s $15 million share of the allotment was the lowest any jurisdiction received, behind the $17 million awarded to Springfield, MA.

The funds awarded in a competition with 40 other finalists are intended to help make communities stronger and more resilient to natural disasters, such as floods, storms, and wildfires.

New Jersey’s application was barely above the cutoff for being eligible to win any grants, according to Castro. The state’s application also was faulted for failing to leverage other capital to fund the projects and scoring poorly on scalability — the ability to do the project on a smaller scale if it received less than requested.

In its original application, New Jersey sought $236 million for flood projects in the Hackensack Meadowlands for areas affected by Hurricane Sandy, and $75 million for construction of a bus garage. Neither project was approved.

The $15 million grant the state will receive will be used for a regional-planning program to help flood-prone communities identify and address vulnerabilities to increased flooding risk and develop a toolkit to come up with better building codes to deal with those risks.

The latest HUD award continues New Jersey’s disappointing record in securing federal aid to recover from storms like Sandy. For instance, as of last summer, New Jersey had received a total of $1.7 billion in money from FEMA, compared to $7.7 billion to New York. Both states suffered about $37 billion in damage from Sandy.

The state Department of Environmental Protection did not have a lot to say about coming up short in its application to HUD for resiliency funds. “This is disappointing news, but since HUD did not give us advance notice of this decision, we would like time to evaluate the reasoning behind the determination before commenting further,’’ a spokesman said in a statement. He declined to elaborate.

Some members of the state’s congressional delegation, however, wanted a fuller explanation.

“The state owes an explanation as to why we got shortchanged here,’’ said U.S. Rep. William Pascrell, a Democrat from North Jersey. “Secretary Castro said there several feedback mechanisms to help improve New Jersey’s application, yet somehow the final application looked darn close to the original. I really hope that New Jersey did not drop the ball.’’

U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) called the announcement disheartening and troubling. “It does not even begin to make a dent in our unmet recovery needs nor cover the costs to build the projects necessary to make our state stronger and more resilient to weather the next storm,’’ he said in a statement.

Previously, the state’s congressional delegation was upset when HUD proposed diverting federal disaster money targeted for resiliency projects to areas not affected by Sandy. The latest HUD grants included a project in Minot, ND, to use $74 million to address climate change and the increased risk of flooding; $70 million to Tuolumne County in California, which was seriously affected by wildfires; and $176 million to New York City to deal with flooding problems in Lower Manhattan.

“We can help communities rebuild in the wake of natural disasters,’’ Castro said. Between 2011 and 2013, there have been 200 presidential disaster declarations. “The evidence is unmistakable climate change is real,’’ he said.