Congressman Chris Smith toured storm damage sites in Wall Township and Howell Township yesterday afternoon to prepare his appeal to the Trump Administration for federal assistance in the recovery, if Governor Phil Murphy asks the President for FEMA’s assistance, as expected.
Smith said his letter to President Trump is already written and that he is prepared to work for federal reimbursement as soon as Governor Murphy makes the request. The knowledge he gained on yesterday’s tour will help him make his case to Trump Administration officials and FEMA when he meets with them to appeal for federal funds.
The congressman met with Monmouth County and municipal officials, as well as homeowners and work crews, on Allenwood Road in Wall, Ramtown-Greenville Road in Howell and on Pine Needle Street in Howell. Allenwood Road and Ramtown-Greenville Road experienced bridge failures. Homeowners on Pine Needle Street experienced flooding in their homes when approximately 24 inches of water rose during the storm.
John Tobia, Monmouth County’s Director of Public Works, told the congressman that County infrastructure suffered damage with an initial cost of $665,000 as a result of the storm. 14 county bridges were damaged on Monday. All but three of those bridges were repaired and reopened by County work crews by Thursday. Tobia said that the cost of repair to County roads and bridges is expected to rise and that the cost to repair infrastructure owned and maintained by municipalities throughout the county is still being tabulated.
James Herman, P.E., C.M.E. Howell’s Director of Community Development told Smith that the damaged caused by storms is exacerbated by the fact that the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection prohibits municipalities from clearing fallen trees from streams, creeks and wetlands. “They want to protect the environment, but they are actually making it worse,” Herman said. He asked Smith if “federal push back” with NJ DEP was possible. Smith said he would look into it and his accompanying staffer opened her notebook and starting writing.
On Pine Needle Street in Howell, Herman said the residents could not buy flood insurance because they are not in a federally designated flood zone. “FEMA won’t sell it to them, many have asked, ” he said.
Congressman Smith met with Pine Needle Street homeowners Bob Salomon who estimated there was $50,000 in uninsured damage to his home, and Anthony and Eileen Sosa who said their son’s room in their home had been damaged in the storm.
Smith said that FEMA has an Individual Assistance Program for victims of natural disasters not covered by flood insurance. He said he would work to get Pine Needle Street residents into the program
The congressman noted that in the aftermath of Super Storm Sandy, FEMA started offering reimbursements for infrastructure repairs at 75% of the cost of the projects. Thanks in large part to Smith efforts, many projects throughout the district were eventually reimbursed at 100%. “It’s a fight,” Congressman Smith said, “but we never stop. One project took us five years to get fully funded, but we did it.”
Wall Township Administrator Jeff Bertrand said he’s “already in FEMA mode,” meaning that he is keeping records of money spent in a manner that will maximize the amount and minimize the time of federal reimbursement.