As the investigation continues into the cause of last week's fire at N.J.'s Seaside Park and Seaside Heights's famous boardwalk, Gov. Chris Christie announced plans to tap Superstorm Sandy funds to help in recovery efforts from the devastating wind-swept blaze. The governor says the state will act "swiftly and aggressively" in the rebuilding effort for victims including the boardwalk businesses that took a direct blow from Sandy 11 months ago.
The N.J. Economic Development Authority (NJEDA) will administer up to $15 million in funding from the state's Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Disaster Recovery program for Sandy to cover debris removal costs and provide grants and loans to businesses, says Virginia Pellerin, an NJEDA spokeswoman. After Sandy, the federal government allocated funding through the CDBG program to New Jersey and other hard-hit regions.
"It was critical that we move quickly to aid the Seaside business community, which was still struggling to recover from Superstorm Sandy," said Michele Brown, CEO of NJEDA, in a Sept. 14 statement. "Extending aid from existing CDBG funding is the most efficient, practical way to get help to the community, which has been dealt a second, terrible blow."
The funding, which is expected to be approved at a special Sept. 18 NJEDA board meeting, would be used for two CDBG-funded programs. Under the Stronger NJ Neighborhood and Community Revitalization program, up to $5 million is planned for the debris removal and for rebuilding the boardwalk and other public areas damaged by the fire, Pellerin says. Up to $10 million is earmarked for grants and low-interest loans to the fire-impacted businesses under the Stronger NJ Business Loan program.
"The extensive damage to the remaining [boardwalk] structures is a safety hazard, so it's important they are removed quickly," Christie said in a Sept. 16 statement announcing the debris removal plan. "By alleviating the costs associated with the debris removal process, state, county and local officials as well as private entities can get down to work immediately to restore one of the Jersey Shore's most iconic boardwalks."
The Sept. 12 fire caused extensive damage that "has made the Seaside community's recovery from Superstorm Sandy all the more difficult," Richard E. Constable, III, commissioner of the state's Dept. of Community Affairs (DCA), said in a statement.
DCA will work with local construction code officials to inspect properties to determine which buildings must be demolished, Constable said. Those deemed an "imminent hazard" or unsafe can be demolished 24 hours after notice to the owner. After the agency and the two municipalities sign a grant agreement, a demolition contractor will be selected.