Posts Tagged ‘hurricane sandy aftermath’

Mayor Eric Houghtaling. Photos by Mary Walton

Mayor Eric Houghtaling. Photos by Mary Walton

By Charles Layton

Neptune Township is financially stable, and Hurricane Sandy should have only a slight impact on this year’s property taxes, Mayor Eric Houghtaling told the Ocean Grove Home Owners Association on Saturday.

Because the storm destroyed relatively few properties in our area, the resulting loss of Township revenue should only require “a very minimal tax increase” — about like last year’s increase — he said.

Last year’s tax increase was approximately $28 for each $100,000 of assessed value.

Houghtaling, installed this month as mayor, was the featured speaker at the Home Owners’ monthly meeting. He gave an overview of Neptune’s plans for 2013, with an emphasis on issues affecting Ocean Grove.

He expressed only modest hope that the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting will get much funding from FEMA for repair of its damaged boardwalk, because the Camp Meeting is a private non-profit organization rather than a municipality.

Nevertheless, he said, “That boardwalk, with the efforts of the Township. will be rebuilt. We’re going to do everything we can to restore that boardwalk.”

Committeeman Randy Bishop, who was in the audience, added that part of the federal “hazard mitigation” funding will be used for dredging and restoration of sand on the beaches, presumably including the beach at Ocean Grove. Bishop said he had learned this at a meeting with officials from the governor’s office and the Army Corps of Engineers.

Turning to the persisting struggles over flooding along Broadway, Houghtaling acknowledged that results of the extensive drainage work this past year had been disappointing.

He said the new drains that were installed had had to meet more stringent environmental standards, which made them function less effectively. “The holes are smaller, and the drains get clogged up more easily,” he said.

However, he added, “We’re not going to just walk away from those problems.”

To protect their homes from flooding during recent rains, some Broadway residents have had to rush outside and clear the drains by frantically shoveling debris with their bare hands. Houghtaling, who has visited the site and spoken with Broadway residents many times, said Neptune’s Public Works employees will be dispatched to help keep the drains clear during rains, rather than leaving this chore entirely to the residents. He also mentioned plans to take other repair measures, including the creation of new curb cuts. (Click here for our previous story on this.)

He repeated that the final phase of the Broadway drainage work will include repaving the entire street and installing new street lights.

In answer to questions from the audience, the mayor also said:

  • The changes that have been made to federal flood zone maps should have no substantial impact on Ocean Grove.
  • The final repaving of Broadway probably won’t include curbs along the median strip, due to the expense.
  • The Township has applied for FEMA funding to fix the collapsed Wesley Lake wall.
  • The deep dips at the cross-street intersections on Broadway will be smoothed out during the repaving process.
  • The Township intends to make improvements to the playground beside Fletcher Lake.
  • The proceeds of this year’s Mayor’s Ball, scheduled for May 31, will go to Mary’s Place by the Sea, which provides a place of respite for women with cancer. Mary’s Place, at 15 Broadway, was badly damaged by Hurricane Sandy.

One statement by the mayor — regarding the North End Redevelopment project — needs clarification. In response to a question about Township negotiations with the developers of this controversial project, Houghtaling mistakenly told the audience that those negotiations will be “a very open process.” However, Committeeman Bishop, who is one of the negotiators, confirmed to Blogfinger after the meeting that the negotiations will be behind closed doors, and that “it is against the law” for Township officials to discuss the details of the negotiations publicly.

Getting to know you. The new mayor presses the flesh. Photos by Mary Walton

Getting to know you. The mayor presses the flesh.

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CMA Director of Operations Bill Bailey shows photos of storm damage. Ralph delCampo (left" and Dale Whilden look on. Photos by Mary Walton

Camp Meeting Director of Operations Bill Bailey shows photos of storm damage. Ralph delCampo (left) and Dale Whilden look on. Photos by Mary Walton (Left click to see the photos enlarged)

By Charles Layton

A new spirit of good will and cooperation blossomed on Tuesday night, when leaders of the Camp Meeting Association and all of Ocean Grove’s major civic groups met to discuss storm recovery.

It falls to the Camp Meeting, as owner of the beach, to raise money and plan and execute the work of repairing the boardwalk and beach facilities.

However, others have a major stake, and up to now some of them had felt isolated, uninformed and frustrated. Merchants had complained because neighboring towns seemed to be moving ahead with rebuilding plans much faster than Ocean Grove. Other local groups said they wanted to help raise money for the beach and boardwalk, but their members hesitated for fear that donations for storm relief would be commingled with the Camp Meeting’s other funds and activities.

Camp Meeting officials organized Tuesday night’s meeting with those concerns fully in mind. “We’re all in the boat together and we all need to row in the same direction,” said Ralph delCampo, the Camp Meeting’s interim administrator. He and Camp Meeting president Dale Whilden pledged to keep everyone fully informed going forward. They also asked for everyone’s input, including their criticisms. But no criticisms were voiced on Tuesday night.

Those present included leaders of the Home Owners Association, the Historical Society, Ocean Grove United, the Fishing Club, the Chamber of Commerce and the Ocean Grove Beautification Project.

In laying out their plans for this year’s fund-raising campaign, DelCampo and other Camp Meeting officials stressed again and again that funds for the boardwalk and beachfront will be “totally separated” from all other funds. (Contributors can write “Boardwalk & Beach Front” in the memo field of their checks to have the donations routed to that separate account.)

The Camp Meeting officials said the entire beach will be open by Memorial Day and that most of the boardwalk will be operational, as will the beach office, bathrooms and changing rooms. And they discussed engineering issues in considerable detail. Bill Bailey, the Camp Meeting’s director of operations, used aerial photos of the beachfront to explain how different types of dune structures, bulkheads and barriers had functioned during Hurricane Sandy, and which of those might best prevent damage in future storms.

At the end of the meeting, Rich Lepore of the Chamber of Commerce expressed optimism about the summer season. “We’re going to do everything we possibly can do to drive home the fact that Ocean Grove is open,” he said.

Gail Shaffer of the Historical Society suggested that all of the organizations present should state on their websites that the OG beach will be open this summer. Others talked about plans to help with fund raising. Connie Ogden of OG Beautification said “We intend to go full blast” in providing decorative plantings along the boardwalk and elsewhere. Luisa Paster of Ocean Grove United suggested sending news releases to The Coaster on a regular basis.

Camp Meeting development officer Karen Adams began the meeting with an explanation of this year’s fund-raising campaign. She said the Camp Meeting normally needs to raise about $1 million, but this year the need is much greater. The cost of fixing the boardwalk and beachfront is estimated at $3 million, she said. Assuming that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) provides 75 percent of that amount, the Camp Meeting would need to raise another $750,000. Thornley Chapel is also in need of $500,000 worth of renovation (not related to the hurricane), and $100,000 must be raised for repairs to the storm-damaged auditorium roof. Insurance will cover the rest of the auditorium costs.

Karen Adams (center) describes the fund-raising campaign. Listening are Carol Woidt (left) of OG Beautification and Mary Ellen Tellefsen of the Chamber of Commerce.

Karen Adams (center) describes the fund-raising campaign. Listening are Carol Woidt (left) of OG Beautification and Mary Ellen Tellefsen of the Chamber of Commerce.

Ordinarily, the Camp Meeting would simply put donations for all those projects into a single fund. However, Whilden said, “We fully realize that probably the majority of the community is primarily interested in the boardwalk,” and therefore “there will be no commingling of funds. They’re completely different funds.”

Whilden said the Camp Meeting has already raised $190,000.

Bailey led a technical discussion of beach barriers and dunes. He said the Camp Meeting believes the reason the portion of the boardwalk from the pavilion to Seaview Avenue held up so well was because the dunes along that stretch of beach were constructed on top of a rubble wall buried beneath the sand. This rubble wall had been installed following a 1953 nor’easter. It has performed so well that the Camp Meeting would like to use that same type of structure along the entire length of the beach. However, “ultimately, it’s going to be all about the money,” Bailey said, “and those rubble walls are expensive.”

The Camp Meeting also discovered that a sheet steel bulkhead in front of the boardwalk at the south end had provided good protection there. Engineers have been helping the Camp Meeting study these and other options for rebuilding.

Bailey said the reason Ocean Grove did not announce its rebuilding plans as quickly as other towns was that the Camp Meeting wanted to first determine which structures will best prevent damage in future storms. “We’ve got to get this right,” he said. “We’re investing a lot of money. We’ve got to study it.”

DelCampo said Ocean Grove needs to avoid what happened in Spring Lake, where the boardwalk was damaged by Hurricane Irene in 2011, the town rebuilt it immediately, and then it was destroyed again just one year later by Hurricane Sandy.

According to Bailey, here is what visitors to Ocean Grove can expect by Memorial Day:

  • The beach will be open in its entirety.
  • The south end boardwalk – from the beach office to Bradley Beach — will be restored.
  • From just north of the beach office to just north of McClintock Street the boardwalk will not be in place, but beach access points will be provided.
  • From the pavilion to the north end the boardwalk will be in place.

Still unanswered is the question of access to Asbury Park. As a temporary fix. there may just be an asphalt pathway.

Also, before summer, the Camp Meeting will send volunteer rescue divers out to retrieve submerged offshore debris.

The Camp Meeting officials said they still had no word as to whether FEMA will agree to provide any funds for restoring the boardwalk. Neither do they know when FEMA might announce that decision. For background on that, see this previous story.

Bailey uses aerial photos to illustrate the performance of a boardwalk bulkhead

Bailey points to an aerial photo showing how the beachfront looked before the storm

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This is how we move wood from the debris pile to the dumpster -- hand to hand. Photos by Mary Walton

This is how to move wood from the debris pile to the dumpster — hand to hand. Photos by Mary Walton (left click to enlarge)

By Charles Layton

On this crispy-cold Saturday morning we found approximately 40 volunteers down at the beach, divided into two work gangs – one at the foot of Main Avenue, the other at the Pavilion.

Both were performing similar tasks, tearing up the broken boardwalk and using human chains – bucket brigade style – to load the wood into dumpsters. We’re told a third group was working at the South End.

“We’ve been trying to find places where we could volunteer,” said Gina Voorhees, a kindergarten teacher at Presbyterian Church at New Providence. She and others at her church discovered Ocean Grove via the Facebook page of another volunteer group, Calvary Relief, which does cleanup operations all along the Jersey Shore.

Voorhees put a note about Saturday’s Ocean Grove cleanup on her church’s own Facebook page, and that’s where Karen Lawler of Bucks County, Pennsylvania, found out about it. So on Saturday she was out there too.

One thing we’ve learned from Hurricane Sandy is how many people, like Lawler and Voorhees, are eager to volunteer for the massive ongoing cleanup efforts. “Our goal is to try to do something two Saturdays a month,” Voorhees told us, speaking for the New Providence group.

Another thing we’ve learned is the important role that social media play in coordinating these efforts. For instance, Calvary Relief’s website had a posting on Friday that said, “Join in Ocean Grove tomorrow morning to continue work on the boardwalk! No need to call, just meet us in the Youth Temple at 9:00 a.m.!!!”

If you go to “PCNP Hurricane Sandy Relief” you’ll see how that group in New Providence spreads the word to its followers.

Most Grovers probably have little idea how much our town and others benefit from perfect strangers who read such postings, show up, pitch in, and ask absolutely nothing in return.

Most of the volunteers in the Main Avenue work gang on Saturday seemed to be from New Providence and from Calvary Relief. Members of the latter group are headquartered at the Youth Temple in Ocean Grove and can often be found at work on our beachfront, especially on weekends. (To read our previous story about them, go here.)

But native Ocean Grovers were out there, too. Liz Saunders of Ocean Grove told us she had been looking for ways to help with the cleanup. So she just showed up at the beach on Saturday morning. “The lady in charge said to me, ‘You looking for a job?’ and I said yes.”

Simple as that.

Doing her bit, Zlë Walters, 8, with the Calvary Relief group, sweeps the sand off the memorial plaque at the base of the flagpole.

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Grovers who would like to pitch in and help with storm recovery efforts have a couple of options on Saturday.

In the morning, volunteers from Ocean Grove and the surrounding area and from Calvary Chapel Relief will form a work detail to continue cleanup and repair efforts on the boardwalk. There will be tasks for volunteers at all levels of skill and physical condition, so no one should assume that their participation isn’t needed. Show up either at the Youth Temple or at the boardwalk at 9 a.m. or any time thereafter. The work will continue until 2 p.m. Calvary Chapel Relief is a New Jersey-based organization that has been providing help to shore communities since shortly after Hurricane Sandy, helping to clean and rebuild homes, removing sand and debris, and tidying up wrecked boardwalks and other storm-damaged facilities.

On Saturday evening, the NENAproductions Theater Project of Ocean Grove presents a musical review to benefit the Great Auditorium. The show is at 7:30 p.m. at Francis Asbury Manor, 70 Stockton Street. Minimum donation is $25. Tickets can be purchased or donations made by calling 732-988-1007 or by dropping by The Starving Artist restaurant at 27 Olin Street. The show is billed as “a family review” of songs. It was conceived by Nick Montesano and Heather McLaughlin and the cast includes many talented Ocean Grovers. Check out the NENAproductions website here for general info about the company.

— Charles Layton

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By Charles Layton and Mary Walton

Two and a half months after Hurricane Sandy, the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association still hasn’t been told whether it is eligible to apply for FEMA funds for its boardwalk.

Until FEMA answers that basic question, the Camp Meeting cannot even submit an application for such funding.

And because time is of the essence, Camp Meeting administrator Ralph delCampo said Wednesday that the association will need to take out a loan for the repairs it must make in time for the summer beach season. If FEMA money does eventually come through, it could be used to repay that loan.

“As an organization we’re stretched financially,” he said in an interview.

In 2011, after Hurricane Irene damaged Ocean Grove’s fishing pier, FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) ruled that the Camp Meeting, which owns both the pier and the boardwalk, was ineligible to apply for storm damage reimbursement.

Neptune Township CFO Michael Bascom, who has worked closely with the Camp Meeting on storm relief issues, said this week that he thinks FEMA will probably reverse its 2011 ruling. (Unlike the damage from Sandy, the 2011 damage was to an area of the pier not open to the general public.)

But even if FEMA does declare the Camp Meeting an eligible applicant now, the association will still face tougher-than-usual obstacles to having its application for funding approved. That’s because the rules are different for private, non-profit organizations than they are for municipalities. Ocean Grove is unique in having its boardwalk and beach owned by a private entity.

DelCampo said that the Camp Meeting’s plans to restore a large portion of the beach and boardwalk in time for Memorial Day could cost in the neighborhood of $1 million. That is in addition to other expenses, including a $100,000 insurance deductible the Camp Meeting must lay out for repairs to the damaged roof of the Great Auditorium. A temporary roof was quickly laid in place immediately after the storm, but now a permanent one of specially fabricated stainless steel is required. The Camp Meeting’s total damage costs – including work on the boardwalk, pier, beach and dunes – will come to between $3 million and $4 million, delCampo said. “That’s a very preliminary number.” The Camp Meeting’s entire annual budget is normally around $5 million.

DelCampo said the Camp Meeting is launching a fund-raising drive. He also said that the Camp Meeting will apply not only to FEMA but “to other agencies, any other governmental agencies.”

Bascom suggested in a separate interview that the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development may have funding available for Sandy-related repairs. DelCampo said the Camp Meeting intends to apply to HUD. The association is working with a professional in the field of grant applications to federal agencies.

Bascom said the Camp Meeting should have an easier time qualifying for FEMA funding for the sand dunes than for the boardwalk. That’s because the sand dunes can be seen as a form of “hazard mitigation” – i.e., the dunes protect beachfront properties from storm surges.

The legal problem with funding for Ocean Grove’s boardwalk is that FEMA classifies the boardwalk as a recreational facility. And while, under FEMA’s rules, local governments can be reimbursed for damage to recreational facilities, private non-profits such as the Camp Meeting usually cannot.

Bascom, Township Business Administrator Vito Gadaleta and Camp Meeting representatives Bill Bailey and Jack Green met in Trenton last week with a representative of the governor’s office to discuss, among other things, this very obstacle, which other New Jersey beach towns do not face.

Camp Meeting and Township officials both argue that the Ocean Grove boardwalk serves much more than simply a recreational purpose. DelCampo said on Wednesday that the boardwalk acts as an economic engine for the entire town and provides interconnectivity between Ocean Grove and adjacent towns. It is unfair, he and others say, for FEMA to treat Ocean Grove’s boardwalk differently when it is functionally just the same as all the other ones.

DelCampo and Camp Meeting Director of Operations Bill Bailey, whom Blogfinger also interviewed on Wednesday, both expressed disappointment that some Ocean Grovers have criticized the Camp Meeting for being slow to act following the storm.

Bailey said Camp Meeting officials have worked diligently with technical consultants, engineers and other professionals to analyze the problems caused by the storm and to design solutions that would minimize damage from future storms.

 “We took the storm more seriously than most towns,” delCampo said, noting that the Camp Meeting built temporary dunes along the beach in the days and hours before the storm hit. “We were the most proactive of all the towns on the North Jersey shore.

“We’re committed to do everything we can,” he said, “but we have limitations.”

NOTE: For an account of the beachfront repairs the Camp Meeting has committed to make by Memorial Day, see our previous story here.

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The Ocean Grove beachfront, Monday morning. It should look different by summer. Photo by Mary Walton

The Ocean Grove beachfront, Monday morning. It should look different by summer. Photo by Mary Walton

By Charles Layton

In response to increasingly urgent questions about Ocean Grove’s beachfront, the Camp Meeting Association announced Monday that the beach and a large portion of the boardwalk will be open on schedule for the 2013 summer season.

In a press release, the association’s president, Dale C. Whilden, was quoted as saying, “We’re on track to implement a comprehensive beach and boardwalk restoration plan… Our beach will be open on Memorial Day weekend.”

While many towns along our section of the Jersey Shore — Asbury Park, Belmar, Avon and others — have been confidently announcing the commencement of boardwalk repairs, Ocean Grove has until now remained publicly silent about its plans.

Part of Ocean Grove’s reticence has been related to its peculiar ownership situation. While other towns’ beaches are owned by municipalities, Ocean Grove’s is probably the only one in New Jersey that is owned by a private non-profit entity, the Camp Meeting. This places Ocean Grove in a different category for FEMA funding. Indeed, as of this writing it is unclear whether the Camp Meeting will receive any FEMA funding at all for the Ocean Grove boardwalk.

Even so, the Camp Meeting’s Monday announcement said beachgoers can expect the following this summer:

  • At the south end, the boardwalk will be fully repaired and operational from Bradley Beach to Ocean Grove’s beachfront office/bathhouse complex at the foot of Embury Avenue.
  • From the office/bathhouse complex to the boardwalk pavilion, damaged boardwalk sections will be removed and temporary beach access points will be created.
  • Extending from the pavilion to Seaview Avenue, the boardwalk will be fully functional. This area sustained minimal hurricane damage because it was protected by dunes that were reinforced by an underground rubble wall.
  • At the North End, from Seaview to Asbury Park, the announcement said, “the potential for a temporary walkway is being evaluated.”

The Camp Meeting statement said that although it considers the rebuilding of the destroyed fishing pier to be important, “greater emphasis is being placed on re-establishing the boardwalk first.”

As other towns made visible progress in fund-raising and boardwalk repair preparations, many in the Ocean Grove community have been concerned that Ocean Grove was lagging behind, to the possible detriment of the town’s summer tourist economy.  Camp Meeting officials had said earlier than they did not expect to have the boardwalk repaired by the 2013 summer, although the beach would be open.

Last Thursday representatives from most of the major civic organizations in Ocean Grove held a meeting to discuss ways to foster more communication and cooperation between themselves and the Camp Meeting. That meeting, organized by the Home Owners Association and Ocean Grove United, included representatives from those two groups and also from the Chamber of Commerce, the Historical Society and the Fishing Club. Attendees at that meeting said the Camp Meeting came in for criticism, in part for its failure to explain to merchants and to the general public about its plans and its prospects for receiving FEMA funding.

Monday’s press release made some effort to answer those concerns. Since the storm, it said, the Camp Meeting “has actively engaged professionals, technical consultants and engineers with expertise in boardwalk and beach reconstruction to develop a three-phased restoration plan. The Camp Meeting has also drawn on a vast array of local expertise, including individuals involved in past rebuildings of the boardwalk, specialists in beachfront maintenance, and an authority on beach dunes who was instrumental in developing the original emplacements.”

The press release shed no new light on prospects for FEMA funding, without which the Camp Meeting presumably will face daunting financial questions.

The question of FEMA funding remains up in the air. Officials of Neptune Township and the Camp Meeting met with state officials in Trenton last week to try to make the case that the Camp Meeting should be declared eligible for FEMA funding for the boardwalk and dunes.

A major problem peculiar to Ocean Grove is the fact that the boardwalk’s owner is the Camp Meeting rather than a municipality. Under FEMA’s rules, as a private non-profit the Camp Meeting is not entitled to funding to restore “recreational” facilities, which is how FEMA classifies the boardwalk. Boardwalks owned by municipalities do not face this obstacle. Neptune and Camp Meeting officials have been trying to offer arguments that would get around this problem. Because the boardwalk is so important to the town’s business interests, “We feel it should fit under an economic category,” Neptune’s CFO, Michael Bascom, told Blogfinger on Monday.

“The cost to rebuild will be extensive,” the Camp Meeting press release said, “and the Camp Meeting will be counting on assistance from FEMA and from the community. Anyone wishing to make a donation to the designated fund to assist with boardwalk rebuilding efforts should make their check payable to OGCMA with ‘Boardwalk & Beach Front’ in the memo line.”

This was the first time the Camp Meeting had mentioned a special “designated fund” for beachfront repairs. Previously, the Camp Meeting had said contributions for storm repairs would go into its “Now and Forever” account, which is a fund for a wide variety of Camp Meeting activities, including religious activities. However, some Ocean Grove individuals and organizations had complained that they were not comfortable contributing to that fund, but would contribute to a fund especially designated for storm damage repairs. Leaders of both the Home Owners and Ocean Grove United had expressed that concern to the Camp Meeting.

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By Charles Layton

An impasse in the U.S. House has cast new doubts on Ocean Grove’s prospects for federal funding of boardwalk and beach repairs.

We reported previously (here and here) on the uncertainties the Camp Meeting Association already faced in qualifying for FEMA disaster funds.

Those uncertainties increased on Tuesday evening when the House of Representatives balked at approving a $60.4 billion Hurricane Sandy relief bill that had already passed the Senate. The part of that bill that the House seemed reluctant to pass includes projects under the heading of hazard mitigation funding. As it happens, Ocean Grove’s boardwalk and dunes may well come under that heading, depending on how FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) interprets its eligibility rules.

Michael Bascom, Neptune Township’s chief financial officer, said on Wednesday that he still felt confident FEMA would approve the Camp Meeting’s application for funding to rebuild the damaged boardwalk and dunes. But he acknowledged that the current impasse in Congress is a matter of concern. For Congress to deny the hazard mitigation funding “would be precedent-setting,” he said. “I just can’t imagine they would do that to the Northeast part of the country that pays the highest taxes.”

This area’s Congressman, Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), complained on Tuesday that in 2005 Congress appropriated $62 billion for Hurricane Katrina victims “in a mere two weeks, and we are now past two months and still no Sandy relief bill.”

The fight in Congress does not appear to affect Neptune Township’s $5.1 million application to FEMA, which is unrelated to the Camp Meeting’s application. That money would reimburse the Township for some of its expenses in cleaning up after the storm, not for projects to prevent damage from future storms.

However, the Camp Meeting, which owns Ocean Grove’s beach including all beach facilities, faces an unusual problem in that it is a private non-profit entity rather than a governmental body. Private non-profits face a more exacting standard in qualifying for FEMA disaster relief.

According to Bascom, who has consulted with the Camp Meeting on its FEMA application, the main arguments being made in the FEMA application with regard to Ocean Grove’s beach area are twofold. For openers, the Camp Meeting is seeking recognition as a quasi-governmental body whose beach facilities are accessible to the public. This argument succeeded following the 1992 northeaster. At that time, FEMA reimbursed the Camp Meeting for damage to its pier out to the gate, which was the portion that was open to the general public. However, FEMA’s rules were changed following that storm, and now, according to statements from FEMA officials recently published on this blog, private non-profits no longer qualify for damage relief for recreational facilities such as, presumably, a pier or boardwalk.

The Camp Meeting’s second major argument is that its boardwalk and dunes should be eligible for funding because they are hazard mitigation projects – projects which protect the community from future floods and storms.

Even if the Camp Meeting does get FEMA funding, it would only be at a rate of 75 cents on the dollar.

On Tuesday, leaders in the U.S. House announced a plan to divide the Senate’s Sandy relief bill into two bills – a bill providing $27 billion in immediate relief to New Jersey, New York and other affected states, and a separate bill, to be voted on later, that would include $33 billion to cover other costs, including projects to protect against future storms.

The House, at that time, seemed very likely to pass the $27 billion part. However, the second part, dealing with the mitigation projects, was in doubt. Around midnight, to everyone’s surprise, the House leadership postponed votes on both parts. This appears to mean that the issue of storm relief legislation will fall to the next Congress, which is scheduled to be installed on Thursday and will then have to start the legislative process all over again on storm relief.

Congressman Smith was quoted as saying the delay in bringing up the bill would give him and other New Jersey and New York lawmakers more time to lobby their colleagues.

One fear was that if the House passes the $27 billion portion separately, it would lessen the chances for passage of the second portion, dealing with hazard mitigation, which is more unpopular with many Republican members.

In a floor speech on Tuesday, Smith told the House that the Senate’s entire $60 billion package was “critical” to people of his 4th congressional district. Which is us.

But here is a final caveat: Even if the House eventually does pass the Senate bill intact, that doesn’t mean FEMA will automatically approve the Camp Meeting’s application for funding. “It’s a complicated process,” Bascom noted.

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By Charles Layton

The Camp Meeting Association’s hopes for receiving federal storm damage funds are based in part on the argument that our boardwalk and dunes provide more than just recreation – they protect the town against disastrous flooding.

Ralph delCampo, the Camp Meeting Association’s interim administrator, said in an interview on Friday that Ocean Grove’s boardwalk is “an enhanced protection to the town to keep the ocean at bay… It provides a critical function to Ocean Grove.”

In a separate interview, Neptune Township Mayor Randy Bishop said he thought the dunes, in particular, played a protective role during Hurricane Sandy. “I would hope the rebuilding of the dunes would be seen as a [storm] mitigation issue, because I believe the dunes proved their value during Hurricane Sandy,” he said.

If FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) sees it that way, Bishop and delCampo suggest, the agency may be more inclined to approve all or part of the Camp Meeting’s request for reimbursement.

DelCampo and Bishop also both said that the Camp Meeting received FEMA funds for boardwalk repairs following the 1992 northeaster. They would like for that precedent to apply in the present case.

Although Bishop seemed less than certain as to how FEMA might rule on the present application, delCampo exuded optimism: “We feel very confident that we will eventually get FEMA money.” (He made no prediction as to how much.)

DelCampo said a section of the Ocean Grove dunes – at the north end, from the pavilion to Seaview Avenue – is reinforced by a rubble wall underneath. “Those dunes didn’t move an inch” during the hurricane, he said. “Now look at the dunes in Bradley Beach. They all moved, they all got destroyed.” Bradley Beach’s dunes were built on top of piled-up Christmas trees rather than a solid rubble wall.

DelCampo also said the Ocean Grove boardwalk has retaining walls imbedded in the sand beside it, which act as flood barriers. “On the surface it looks like it’s just another boardwalk, but it’s more than meets the eye,” he said.

Because the Camp Meeting is a private non-profit organization, FEMA’s rules for federal relief are more restrictive for it than they are for governmental bodies. For instance, local governments can be reimbursed for damage to recreational facilities; private non-profits are not usually eligible for that, although they used to be, prior to 1993, when the rules were changed. It would seem, therefore, that Ocean Grove’s boardwalk would need to qualify as more than just a recreational feature. The FEMA rules do allow for reimbursement to private non-profits for “facilities that provide essential governmental services.” These, say the rules, can include “health and safety services of a governmental nature.”

It is unclear whether dunes or a boardwalk owned by the Camp Meeting can qualify for funding if they are considered to be vital flood protection. But if that is what determines FEMA’s decision, it is hard to see how the damage to the fishing pier could be justified on that basis. Earlier this year, FEMA turned down a request to fund repairs to the pier from damage by Hurricane Irene.

DelCampo said he expected FEMA to reimburse for damages at its normal rate of 75 percent, not at the 90-percent rate being sought by Governor Christie. “We’re trying to be realistic,” delCampo said. He said the Camp Meeting’s current estimates of $2.5 million in damages to the boardwalk and $750,000 to the pier are “very preliminary.”

The possibilities for reimbursement span a spectrum, from full FEMA reimbursement to no reimbursement at all. FEMA could decide, for instance, that the dunes are eligible but not the boardwalk.

However it goes, delCampo said the Camp Meeting “is absolutely committed to rebuilding the boardwalk” by the summer of 2014. He has been reading comments by some readers on this website who have grown impatient with what they consider the Camp Meeting’s inaction. He said that, in fact, the Camp Meeting has been writing funding applications, consulting with engineers, and researching the best ways to rebuild the boardwalk and dunes, based on the experience of Ocean Grove and other Jersey Shore communities. (It has been suggested, for instance, that the boardwalk might be more effective as a flood mitigation structure if it were relocated at a different distance from the ocean.)

DelCampo also said the Camp Meeting is seeking financial support from the Ocean Grove community and from other organizations.

“All of that is in the works,” he said, “but it takes time to do it right. We just ask people to be patient.”

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Ocean Grove, NJ. Dec. 9, 2012.  Paul Goldfinger photo

Ocean Grove, NJ. Dec. 9, 2012. Paul Goldfinger photo. Left click to enlarge

EDITOR’S NOTE: Our December 23rd story on whether the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will reimburse Ocean Grove for repairs to our storm-damaged boardwalk raised as many questions as it answered.

Many Grovers are wondering why disaster relief for our boardwalk is in doubt while relief for damaged boardwalks in neighboring towns is not. The answer is that our boardwalk is owned not by a local government but by the Camp Meeting Association, a private, non-profit organization.

A FEMA official assigned to Monmouth County hurricane relief has been following our discussion of this issue. Today, she weighs in with an explanation of some of the main considerations on which FEMA’s decision will rest. Although she makes no prediction as to which way that decision will go, she frames the issue in some detail. We present her analysis here.


By Robin E. Smith, FEMA Media Relations

Public Assistance grants from FEMA may be given to state, local and tribal governments, as well as to certain qualifying private non-profit organizations, to cover 75 percent of the cost of disaster repairs.

The criteria for approving the grants, set by the Stafford Act, differ for governmental entities and private non-profits.

State, tribe or local governments may apply for disaster-related damages to public facilities they own that provide flood control, navigation, irrigation, reclamation, public power, sewage treatment and collection, water supply and distribution, watershed development, or an airport facility. They may also apply for disaster-related damages to non-federally funded streets, roads or highways, and any other public building, structure, park or system, including those used for educational, recreational, or cultural purposes, that is owned by a state, tribe or local government.

In general, a private non-profit facility may qualify for FEMA Public Assistance grants if it provides educational, utility, irrigation, emergency, medical, rehabilitational, or custodial care resources to the community.

In certain cases, private non-profit organizations that provide essential, non-recreational services of a governmental nature to the general public may also be eligible. Examples include some museums, zoos, performing arts facilities, libraries, homeless shelters, senior citizen centers, and similarly purposed facilities.

For a form that helps determine the eligibility of private non-profits for FEMA Public Assistance grants, see http://www.fema.gov/library/viewRecord.do?id=2726. Additional information about FEMA Public Assistance grants for non-profit cultural institutions may be found at https://www.heritagepreservation.org/federal/index.html.

Ed. note: Of particular interest to Ocean Grovers is this link.

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In Avon, work begins next month. Boardwalk planks have been stripped away and a beach building moved out of the way. Photo by Mary Walton

Neighboring towns are forging ahead. In Avon (above), where rebuilding is to start next month, boardwalk planks have been stripped away and a beach building moved off into the street. Photo by Mary Walton

By Mary Walton and Charles Layton

Barring a miracle, prospects for an Ocean Grove boardwalk by next summer are nonexistent.

“I would say that’s a realistic expectation,” Ralph delCampo, interim administrator of the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association, said Friday.

As neighboring towns move ahead with plans to repair their storm-damaged boardwalks, the holdup here in Ocean Grove appears largely financial. DelCampo said in an interview that the Camp Meeting has applied to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for money to repair the 60 percent of the boardwalk that Hurricane Sandy destroyed. “Our assumption is that we will get money from the federal government,” he said. The estimated cost of replacing the damaged sections of the boardwalk is around $2.5 million, and for the pier another $500,000.

But because the two facilities are owned by the Camp Meeting, which is a private, non-profit organization, FEMA reimbursement for Ocean Grove is less certain than it is for other Jersey Shore boardwalks, which are owned by municipalities.

Non-profits must demonstrate to FEMA’s satisfaction that the funds they receive will be used for “things that are structural to a community,” Robin Smith, a FEMA public affairs officer assigned to Monmouth County, wrote in an email to Blogfinger. She gave as an example a hospital or other facility necessary to health and welfare. She said the fact that the boardwalk “isn’t likely to be seen as critical infrastructure likely means it won’t qualify for grant funds.” Earlier this year FEMA rejected a request from the Camp Meeting for funds to repair the pier after Hurricane Irene lopped off its eastern tip.

DelCampo said the Camp Meeting, with the support of Neptune Township, is attempting to make the case to FEMA that the boardwalk offers flood and damage protection to the community and therefore is “more than a park-like setting or a functional walkway.”

Immediate plans for next summer call for providing beach access and fixing the area around the beach office. DelCampo noted that following the 1992 nor’easter, Ocean Grove was also without a boardwalk for a summer. In all, he said, repairs took two years.

In a recent mass mailing to Ocean Grove residents, the Camp Meeting asked for contributions to its “Now and Forever Fund” to aid in recovery. But in meetings with leaders of both the Ocean Grove Home Owners Association and Ocean Grove United, delCampo and Camp Meeting president Dale Whilden were told firmly that many of their members would prefer giving to a fund specially earmarked for Hurricane Sandy repairs, not to a general-purpose Camp Meeting fund. The Camp Meeting Board of Trustees considered that option but decided not to set up a separate fund, delCampo said. He pledged that the association will honor requests that contributions be used for specific purposes, such as boardwalk restoration or auditorium roof repairs.

Neighboring beach towns, according to press reports, have already appropriated funds for their damaged boardwalks in the expectation that FEMA will reimburse 75 percent of their costs. In Belmar, authorities are debating what kind of wood to buy with the $17 million that the town has allocated for reconstruction of its 1.3-mile boardwalk. Spring Lake has appropriated $4 million to cover the first stretch of a new boardwalk from the South Pavilion to Pier Beach, and expects to raise beach fees from $9 to $10. Avon plans to begin work on its boardwalk in mid-January with a $2.5 million appropriation. All these towns intend to have their boardwalks redone by the summer of 2013, as does Asbury Park.

Without a FEMA guarantee, the camp meeting would be hard pressed to pay for reconstruction. “We don’t have a money tree in the basement,” delCampo said. In 2010, according to the last financial accounting posted on its website, the Camp Meeting ran a deficit of $75,297 on total expenditures of $5,145,091. Twenty percent of its revenues of $5,069,794 came from “contributions, gifts, offerings and grants”; 41 percent came from entertainment revenue, and 27 per cent came from rental income. In contrast, in 2009 the Camp Meeting had a net surplus of $924,971. Between 2009 and 2010, revenues fell by $523,875, the bulk of which represented a $306,770 decline in the contribution category.

Del Campo informed the Ocean Grove Chamber of Commerce earlier this month that there would be no boardwalk next summer. “We heard this but we really didn’t want to hear this,” said Ocean Grove Chamber of Commerce president Rich Lepore, owner of Smuggler’s Cove on Main Avenue. He said he was reluctant to believe the news.  “I wouldn’t give up so soon.” Nevertheless, he added, “there was discussion that if there is no boardwalk there will still be a beach.”

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