N.J. Gov. Christie Defends His Administration’s Sandy Response

By and | November 2, 2015

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie again defended his administration’s handling of the recovery from Superstorm Sandy on Oct. 29, the third anniversary of the storm, acknowledging mistakes were made but emphasizing they were corrected and that the extent of the devastation put the state in “uncharted territory.”

The Oct. 29, 2012, storm destroyed homes, splintered boardwalks and put many businesses out of commission. Three years later, at events around the state, assessments were made of what has been completed and what remains to be done, including getting many struggling residents back into their homes.

Christie made his remarks at a family-owned moving company in Moonachie, New Jersey, that suffered heavy damage when the backed-up Hackensack River sent several feet of water into the area.

“I’ve said every time since after Sandy happened: None of this was done perfectly, not by the government at the federal level or at the state level or at the county and local level, not by the nonprofits,” he said. “All of us were in absolutely uncharted territory, at least at the state level or below. So mistakes were made, and those mistakes were corrected.”

The Republican governor and White House hopeful said some of the criticisms have been valid, but he also took the opportunity to chide his critics, saying the loudest ones “are those who have done the least.”

His office defended its often-stated estimate that 365,000 buildings in New Jersey were damaged by Sandy. Spokesman Brian Murray said that number was calculated by emergency management offices around the state.

He said the state Department of Insurance and Banking reported nearly 340,000 initial homeowner insurance claims were filed, along with approximately 71,500 residential flood insurance claims. Accounting for overlaps, the department estimated 365,000 buildings were damaged.

Several victim advocacy groups say that figure is misleading, making it appear as if a far greater percentage of Sandy victims have recovered three years later. The Fair Share Housing Center cites data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development asserting that 40,500 primary residences and 15,600 rental units sustained “severe” or “major” damage in the storm.

Christie didn’t take questions at his event in Moonachie. Last year, on the second anniversary of the storm, he shouted down a heckler in Belmar, New Jersey, who was complaining about the pace of recovery. Christie told the heckler to “sit down and shut up.”

In Sea Isle City, New Jersey, officials marked the completion of part of a $57.6 million beach replenishment project. Work is now moving to the north end of Ocean City, which is chronically prone to erosion and flood damage during storms.

The hard-hit Jersey shore has rebounded, Christie said, and posted $12.8 million in so-called bed tax revenues this summer compared to $11.6 million in the summer of 2012 before Sandy.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez said the rebuilding efforts of many Sandy victims were hurt by inefficiencies and outright mistakes by government agencies. He said partisan and geographic differences cannot be allowed to inhibit aid to victims of future catastrophic storms.

In Brick Township, New Jersey, representatives of major electric and natural gas companies outlined storm resiliency work they are in the midst of or plan to begin soon, including elevating critical equipment, replacing pipes and mains, and flood-proofing substations.

The state Department of Environmental Protection said it has bought three homes in low-lying sections of Linden in Union County under its program to buy out flood-prone properties. It has made buyout offers to 40 Linden homeowners.

The New Jersey Sierra Club said the program, which has not acquired any property in hard-hit areas of the Jersey shore, cannot compensate for laws allowing significant building near the shore, putting more people at risk in future storms. The state says it has not found willing sellers for shore properties, even ones that have been damaged by repeated storms.

To date statewide, buyouts are underway in 12 municipalities in six counties. Offers have been made to 695 homeowners and 526 have accepted. Closings have been completed on 395 properties, 259 of which have been demolished.

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