The Star-Ledger | April 18, 2014 | Erin O’Neill
While trudging through the ongoing rebuilding from Hurricane Sandy, coastal communities pounded by the devastating storm are trying to form long-term strategies for addressing a wide-range of recovery needs with a finite amount of money.
At the same time, planning experts contend the state needs a larger, regional approach to help hard-hit towns address future natural disasters.
The New Jersey Department of Community Affairs has set aside $5 million in federal disaster aid to help local governments with post-Sandy planning. The state plans to spend an additional $10 million on planning with the next round of money it receives from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. With the help of that funding, towns like Sea Bright and Union Beach, among others, have been developing blueprints to guide rebuilding efforts.
Sea Bright Mayor Dina Long said her town has a number of concerns to address in areas like mitigation, housing recovery, economic development and infrastructure.
“For Sea Bright to make a full recovery from Sandy, everything that we do needs to be strategic because we work with a limited pool of resources,” she said.
For a small coastal community that relied on part-time help to operate prior to Sandy, capacity remains an issue, Long said. To rebuild a town, she said, you need full-time staff.
Sea Bright received a $20,000 post-Sandy planning grant from the state to create a long-term recovery plan. A local recovery planning manager from New Jersey Future, a nonprofit group focused on land-use policies, is helping the town create that document.
David Kutner, recovery planning manager for New Jersey Future, said his group is working to assess and incorporate future vulnerabilities like sea level rise into the reports they are working on.
Without that information, Kutner said, “you could be spending money putting people and properties back in harm’s way.”
Developing a “Strategic Recovery Planning Report” is a prerequisite for towns to receive any additional money through the state’s’ post-Sandy planning assistance grant program, which also provides funding for community development plans, creating codes and regulations needed to put resiliency plans in place and developing design standards for specific flood hazard areas.
Lisa Ryan, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Community Affairs, said the program has so far received $5.13 million in requests. To date, the state has awarded $2.7 million in grants, she said.
Kutner said planning at the local level is an important step. But, he said, there is a need to look at the bigger picture.
“Hazards, in general, don’t restrict themselves to municipal boundaries,” he said.
Charles Latini Jr., president of the New Jersey chapter of the American Planning Association, said the state needs to provide more guidance.
“You can’t just leave all these communities to their own devices to figure out their place in the world,” he said. “They have to understand where they sit in the region.”
Ryan said there are opportunities for addressing regional issues with the planning grants. She said five of the nine counties eligible for the grants have applied and are “responding to the need for a regional approach.”
She also said that the state hasn’t yet crafted the policies for the planning grants that will be funded with the second round of federal aid, “but we have determined that, in general, greater opportunity will exist for regional planning grants.”
Long said while she’s focused on the recovery in Sea Bright, she regularly talks with other mayors to collaborate and discuss projects moving forward.
“We share the shoreline,” she said. “We need to be working together.”