Return To Barrier Islands Not Soon Enough For Residents [AUDIO]
It has been over a week since Hurricane Sandy pounded the Jersey Shore, and thousands along the state’s barrier island communities are still unable to return home to survey the damage done by the storm.
Seaside Heights is the latest municipality to let residents in-with limitations-but it’s a process that leaves officials with their back against the wall and residents with feelings of being ignored or even lied to.
On Wednesday the Seaside Heights Council convened in the Ocean County Administration building and even though the nor’easter already dumped several inches of snow on the ground, the room was packed with more than 150 people.
Residents Allowed Back to Home Briefly
Mayor Bill Akers and the rest of the members of council, who were able to attend, spelled out the borough’s plan for allowing residents back on the island. The process will be split among five days from Friday to Tuesday with each day getting certain designated streets from Ocean Terrace to Bay Boulevard.
Two members representing each household (or apartment)will be bussed into the city and be given a four hour window which to take any valuables with them, do necessary repairs/prepare home for winter, take pictures for Insurance and FEMA claims, and turn off electric breakers and drain water pipes.
According to Akers as much as 99 percent of homes in the borough suffered flooding damage, and key infrastructures throughout the municipality were damaged by the powerful winds and flooding. Including the boardwalk, which he says has been completely destroyed, though FEMA will be compensating them $800,000 per block for the damage. The Tunney Mathis Bridge has also been undergoing repairs (it is slated to reopen soon) and access has been only limited to essential personnel.
Angry Residents Launch Allegations
Tension was high during the meeting which saw many residents have outbursts of anger against the Council and Mayor. Numerous people felt they weren’t being told the truth about the condition of their homes, and the real reason as to why they weren’t allowed to use their own cars to return. Several residents claimed to have seen aerial photos of the borough, and asserted the streets were fine but it was the administration that had an agenda for keeping them out. Akers finds those accusations the most preposterous.
“If you’re going to sit here and tell me I’m lying, at least have a basis for it.”
Mayor Akers explained that him, as well as mayors from hard-hit towns like Ortley Beach, Lavallette, and neighboring Seaside Park, all have an identical process to go to in opening up their communities back to residents. That means regular meetings with county, state, and federal organizations including FEMA, County OEM’s, and State Department of Transportation, and State Police.
“And until the DOT, state police, and our chief of police, along with the other chief of police have signed off on a plan, we could not implement it,” Adding, “We don’t want to not tell you things, but when you’re dealing with five different agencies, and two of them being federal others being state and then you have your county and local it’s very different coordination process.”
He notes part of the reason for the DOT was adamant against letting residents use their personal cars was they saw the disaster that happened when other towns like Berkley and Seaside Park were allowed individual vehicles, and the program had to be ended after a day.
“I was ready to announce probably Monday my plan. I was told to hold off on the plan because we had chaos because of the way Berkley and Seaside Park entered the way they did with their cars. It was a nightmare.”
Many residents didn’t understand why they would have to take a bus into their homes, arriving there with only several suitcases to take important items and several boxes for larger items that would be transported out on a tailing cargo truck.
Four Busses will be staged at the Fischer Boulevard Foodtown at 9 am.
- Friday-Sherman, Sheridan, Grant, Blaine
- Saturday – Hancock, Fremont, Sumner, Webster
- Sunday – Kearney, Carteret, Hamilton, Franklin
- Monday – Sampson, Hiering, Lincoln, Dupont, Porter
- Tuesday- 400 Hiering/Bayside Terrace
Mayor: Roads Not Safe Yet
Throughout the meeting Akers told frustrated residents the Department of Transportation required they only enter the borough via bus caravans and not in individual vehicles. He notes he was told road conditions were still not safe enough to handle the influx of traffic and there were sinkholes around the borough. The transportation routes inside Seaside Heights are still not completely up to snuff according to information given to the Mayor. Also, since no municipalities wanted to wait to let its residents enter, several communities are entering the barrier islands at the same time for the same four hours, which is to also accommodate the schedules and transportation routes of the heavy machinery of the cleanup crews.
The other issue contributing to the tension between residents and officials is that many in charge are reluctant to give a specific timetable because often the corresponding government agencies tasked with cleanup refuse to set them. Akers acknowledged there have been rumors spreading about when residents can return home (some saying it could be six months or more), however because of the nature of the clean up and rebuilding process it would be disingenuous of him to even present a schedule of things to come.
“I want to give them that [timetable], but I won’t give residents false information,” says Akers, “I’m not just going to tell you something just to make you happy, I have to sign off again and go through the same process we did to get them in for the short visits to get you in for a regular basis.”