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Bayshore Pursues Recovery Plan After Missing Out on Bulk of Federal Funding

Four towns in Cumberland County are putting together and acting on a Sandy-recovery initiative of their own


Four townships along Cumberland County’s Delaware Bayshore are setting out their own plan to recover from Sandy and defend against future rises in sea level. The initiative comes after these four -- along with the rest of the county -- missed out on much of the federal funding that is helping nine other New Jersey counties to rebuild.

The Cumberland County Delaware Bayshore Recovery Plan is seeking around $170 million from federal, state, and local sources for projects such as rebuilding dunes and beaches, purchasing emergency generators, dredging silted-up creeks, elevating flood-prone roads, and reviving tourism in an area that was economically depressed even before Sandy struck.

The plan, whose most recent version was published in late February, is a wide-ranging effort to repair and improve the defenses of a community that sees its failure to qualify for the main tranche of recovery funding as the latest example of neglect by state and federal authorities.

Below the Economic Threshold

“The economic impact on the county fell below the threshold that would have qualified Cumberland for the bulk of federal assistance from Superstorm Sandy Supplemental Funds,” the report said. “As a result, the county is forced to be extra vigilant and resourceful in identifying available technical and financial resources to assist its long-term recovery.”

Compiled over four months by community organizations, Cumberland County officials, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Community Recovery Assistance Team, the plan identifies 26 projects in four broad areas that are designed to speed recovery from Sandy while building defenses against the next major storm and preparing for sea-level rise in coming decades. It builds on local plans, such as one published by Downe Township, one of the four communities that contributed to the proposals.

The initiative would encourage businesses to remain, and work with banks and realtors to find the finances that would enable entrepreneurs to reopen shops and restaurants that were devastated by Sandy, or that closed in recent years in response to the flagging local economy in the largely rural South Jersey county.

The plan, which also included input from Greenwich, Maurice River, and Commercial townships, proposes investing in eco-tourism facilities such as a rails-to-trails network, and calls for up to $1 million to help revive the oyster industry which was once the economic lifeblood of the bay shore.

FEMA initially sought input from Downe, Maurice River, and Commercial townships, and later added Greenwich after a request from that community to become involved, said Meghan Wren, executive director of the nonprofit Bayshore Center at Bivalve, and a leading voice in the recovery plan. Two other local townships, Lawrence and Fairfield, were not interested in participating, she said.

Sandy-related damage in the four townships included devastated homes, breached dikes, severe beach erosion, and the closure of businesses, together cost the area millions of dollars, the report said.

Slim Margins

The 120-page document warned that local businesses, already struggling, may not be able to withstand another big storm or sea-level rise unless they get help now.

“Many Bayshore businesses are working on little margin—some, none at all—and resiliency is not likely to happen without assistance,” the report said.

Wren said the bay shore is especially deserving of investment because it has been neglected in the past.

“This is an area that has not had investment for the most part so there’s some catch-up to do,” she said in an interview.

While the biggest price stickers are attached to infrastructure and shoreline projects, such as the dredging and restoration of the mouth of the Maurice River for an estimated $50 million, the program also identifies more modestly priced measures that would coordinate the efforts of public and private groups.

For example, it estimated that $1,000-$5,000 would pay to create a Bayshore Resiliency Roundtable that would bring together parties including municipalities, conservation organizations, and landowners to decide how to deal with issues like flooding, coastal erosion, and emergency management. The Roundtable would build on the efforts of local groups that are already working on Sandy recovery, and which in some cases have overlapped, the report said. It aims to synthesize the local plans and create a holistic approach to recovery.

In the case of infrastructure improvements, the project aims to improve on existing facilities in anticipation of higher seas and bigger storms, rather than just replacing what was lost to Sandy, Wren said.

She urged state government to help with the funding request after Cumberland County was excluded from the approximately $3.2 billion in Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that is being allocated in two tranches to the nine other counties.

“There have been some situations that have suggested that it’s not a priority for the state to recover these communities, so I think a good-faith showing by the state that they are investing in these communities would be an important first step for additional investment,” she said.

Mike Drewniak, a spokesman for Gov. Chris Christie, said Cumberland could still receive some of the approximately 17 percent of the CDBG funds that the state plans to distribute outside the nine hardest-hit counties.

Almost all of the state’s programs have some funding going outside the nine counties, Drewniak said.

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