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

“Cumberland could receive some of this funding but it is dependent on the eligibility requirements of each of these programs,” Drewniak wrote in an email. “We have been highly cognizant of the impact in Cumberland and other counties not selected to be among the nine most-impacted counties.”

Although Cumberland did not receive the HUD money, it has received other forms of federal and state assistance, Drewniak said. That includes $3.45 million in individual and other grants from FEMA; $1.9 million in loans from the Small Business Administration; and $15 million in payments to individual homeowners from the National Flood Insurance Program.

The state has also agreed to buy out 33 homes and vacant lots at Baypoint, an isolated coastal community that was severely damaged by Sandy, for $9.4 million.

Wren acknowledged that Cumberland had received the funding from various sources but argues that the total pales by comparison with the support for the counties that were designated as hardest-hit.

She called the approximately $5 million in FEMA funds so far distributed to Cumberland County “a pittance” compared with the total going to the nine counties.

And she questioned whether the funds promised to buy out Baypoint homeowners would actually be made. “They have seen not one penny so far,” she said. “There is no guarantee that money will be paid.”

Adam Glantz, a spokesman for FEMA, said Cumberland didn’t get the CDBG funds because it was not among the areas worst-affected by Sandy, but still could get some of the money, at the discretion of the state, which can use up to 20 percent of the federal money outside the nine counties.

“The hardest-hit communities were designated by HUD based on a formula of housing, business, and infrastructure needs,” Glantz wrote in an email. “Based on this formula, Cumberland County was not deemed one of the hardest-hit communities.”

Fewer than 1 percent of Cumberland’s taxable properties were damaged in the storm, meaning that the county fell below the "hardest-hit" designation set by HUD, Wren said. Even though many more than 1 percent were damaged in some coastal communities, the county-wide number fell below the HUD threshold because its main population centers are inland and so were less affected.

The nine counties are: Atlantic, Bergen, Cape May, Essex, Hudson, Middlesex, Monmouth, Ocean, and Union.

Rebuild or Retreat?

Meanwhile, bay shore residents are making their own judgments about whether to rebuild or retreat in the face of seas that are projected to rise about three feet along the Jersey coastline by the end of the century, Wren said.

“You measure vulnerability with asset value and you determine what’s worth the investment,” she said.

While there’s still room for discussion over the extent of sea-level rise in coming decades, there’s no doubt that some rise will occur, she said.

“People are still treating it as if it is still debatable,” she said. “Certainly, how many inches in how many years is debatable but the fact that water is rising isn’t debatable, and as it rises we will have additional impacts from future storms.”

But Bob Campbell, Mayor of Downe Township, argued that the bay shore’s flooding problems are caused by erosion and a lack of maintenance of coastal assets like dunes and bulkheads, and not by sea-level rise.

Campbell praised the recovery report overall but said he was “skeptical about climate change and sea-level rise”, especially after an exceptionally cold winter.

While the broader community is looking for ways to fund the ambitious recovery plan, Downe Township is implementing its own projects such as beach restoration, and is planning to offer tax incentives to businesses to set up in the township’s three communities: Fortescue, Gandy’s Beach, and Money Island, which have a total of about 440 homes, Campbell said.

Bulkheads and Beachfront

He said his township – 75 percent of which is less than 10 feet above sea level -- has received about $1 million in grants from various sources over the past 12 months for improvements such as rebuilding bulkheads. Repair of the township’s shoreline is economically imperative, Campbell said, because 80 percent of its revenue comes from beachfront properties.

Campbell also accused state officials of neglecting Cumberland County. “New Jersey has turned a blind eye to the bay shore community,” he said.

But Larry Ragonese, a spokesman for the Department of Environmental Protection, rejected the charge that the DEP has ignored Cumberland’s needs.

He said the department has helped with debris cleanup and paid about $700,000 to the county to dredge Fortescue Creek, in addition to agreeing to buy out storm-damaged homes at Baypoint.

“We’re aware that they feel a bit left out,” he said. “We’ve done our best to work with them.”

But Jim Watson, Director of Development for the Cumberland County Development Authority, said the state has not supported the largely rural county to the same extent as it does in other areas, and that people recognize that.

“Folks are discouraged because they really have been denied so often,” he said. “The state has made it very clear that it has not been a priority to sustain this part of the state.”

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