The State Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee toured the damaged areas of Union Beach and Highlands today before convening their scheduled hearing at the Henry Hudson Regional High School in Highlands.
State Senator Joe Kyrillos, who represents the Bayshore in Trenton, issued the following statement following the hearing:
Touring the damage today in Union Beach and Highlands gave my colleagues in the Senate a good visual of the destruction this storm wrought on our district and Monmouth County as a whole. However, the testimony from members of the community who are putting their lives back together best illustrated the anguish and exhaustion our friends and neighbors are going through. I thank members of the Committee for coming out to the Bayshore today.
They also got to see the best New Jerseyans have to offer: neighbors helping neighbors, residents rebuilding with dedication and courage, and the generosity of charities such as the Robin Hood Foundation that announced today their contribution of hundreds of thousands of dollars to relief efforts in Sea Bright, Highlands, Keansburg, and Union Beach.
As FEMA continues to assess the damage and make plans to compensate victims and help them rebuild, I encourage them to remember words of the residents who came to Highlands to testify. The perception that the New Jersey shoreline is only for wealthy vacationers who live elsewhere is a false one. This area is full of hard-working, middle class families whose homes have been in their families for generations and will have a difficult time rebuilding what they’ve lost even with flood insurance. It is incumbent upon us to work together and ensure they are able to rebuild their homes to the condition in which they existed prior to the storm, or help them find a new home elsewhere if rebuilding in certain areas is too dangerous. Only then will their lives truly be made whole after this unique event.
Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon said that the tour and the hearing dispelled any notion that some legislators have heard from their consitituients that FEMA and the State are bailing out exclusively well to do and second home owners on the shore who should have known better than the build near the water.
“This one was different,” said O’Scanlon, “properties were never touched by previous major storms and hurricanes were destroyed this time. Hard working familes whose homes have been passed down four generations lost everything. Every town is different and it is appropriate that the Committee came and meet the people of the Bayshore.”
Highlands Mayor Frank L. Nolan gave FEMA a “D” when asked to grade the federal agency by Senator Jeff Van Drew. “Do you say B?” ask Van Drew. “D, as in not good,” responded Nolan.
Nolan gave the FEMA personnel on the ground an A+, saying his issues are with the agency’s bueracracy and red tape.
Nolan also announced that the Rainbow Foundation has pledged $200,ooo for Highlands recovery.
Councilwoman-elect Tara Ryan asked the committee to keep up the pressure on the National Park Service to open Sandy Hook by this summer, citing the park’s importance to the Northern Monmouth economy.