Marc Ferzan, the state's so-called storm czar,made his first public appearance Wednesday when he told members of the New Jersey State Chamber of Commerce that he hopes to begin distributing some of the estimated $20 billion -$25 billion in federal aid New Jersey expects to receive by the summer -- possibly as early as next month.
Ferzan, whose official title is executive director of the Office of Recovery and Rebuilding within the Office of the Governor, has been at the job for nearly five months, overseeing the strategic planning required for the state’s long-term recovery from superstorm Sandy.
But while he has worked largely behind the scenes and out of the public eye, Ferzan downplayed criticism that he’s been working in the shadows. He referred to his role as a “hands on the handlebars kind of job,” and he pledged more transparency and visibility going forward, both for his department’s work and its spending.
The new, cabinet-level position is tasked with coordinating the efforts of various federal, state, local, and private entities in helping New Jersey home- and business-owners get back on their feet following the storm.
Ferzan said business owners, in particular, have told him they need grant money as soon as possible, since they’re unable to carry more debt, even from low-interest loans from the Small Business Administration.
One of the challenges, Ferzan explained, is trying to balance getting aid to people as quickly as possible with making sure it’s well spent. He said the federal government has required that New Jersey distribute all of the aid it's obligated within the next two years, but his office is negotiating to get that timeline extended.
“We want to move quickly, obviously. We want to get programs underway,” Ferzan said, “but to do the smart stuff and the complicated stuff, we’d like to have a little bit more time.”
Ferzan said his office has been busy crafting long-term recovery goals and talking with various agencies to figure out how the state can best go about restoring its coast to comply with new FEMA maps and make the shore less susceptible to storms.
Of particular concern is the question of how to rebuild cities like Jersey City and Hoboken, since raising offices and apartment buildings in flood zones is impractical. He’s working with the state’s Congressional delegation to delay higher flood insurance rates from taking effect and to seek exceptions for historic and urban properties from FEMA’s new building elevation requirements.
He also said the state is working with NJIT and other local schools to come up with long-term solutions for places like Moonachie, Little Ferry, and Hackensack, where flooding occurs regularly.
Ferzan assumed the helm at the Office of Recovery and Rebuilding late last November. He previously held management positions at PricewaterhouseCoopers and the New Jersey Attorney General’s office.
Editor's note: This story was revised and edited after it was originally published.