Recovery Depends on
Leadership at All Levels
By Chris Christie, Governor.
I look back in awe to the morning of Tuesday, October 30, when we assessed damage after the harrowing overnight landfall of Hurricane Sandy. The massive coastal storm surge laid waste to large swaths of the Shore and barrier islands and knocked out power to most of our state.
Nothing could prepare me for what I saw later that day when we were able to survey from the air the full breadth of devastation, particularly to our coastline, the Raritan Bay communities and barrier island towns. Inland and to the north and south as well, thousands of dwellings—everything from mansions, to middle-class homes and blocks of humble summer bungalows—were destroyed by the storm. Thousands of small businesses, the backbone of our local and state economies, suffered the same fate. Our roads, mass transit systems, schools and all manner of urban and suburban infrastructure, were heavily damaged.
Governor Chris Christie gets a thank you hug from home owner Sue Boulaga while touring flood damaged areas of Moonachie. (Governor’s Office/Tim Larsen)
We and the state we love were dealt a cruel blow by Hurricane Sandy. And, like the unprecedented nature of the storm, our level of cooperation must be equally unprecedented if we are to meet the challenges Sandy left behind. The task of rebuilding is daunting; I won’t sugarcoat that for you. It will take months, and in some aspects, years. This is the time for all of us—from governor to freeholder, mayor and council member—to step up. We are, truly, all in this together; and our citizens will continue to look to us for leadership and will expect nothing less.
The costs and impact on your municipal tax bases, budgets and infrastructure are considerable. What you can continue to expect from me and my administration are results-driven Cabinet departments that will deliver state services and help you through the planning and rebuilding process.
Equally important, my Administration has launched a full-throttled, unrelenting and unapologetic effort to bring to New Jersey all it deserves from the federal government in terms of rebuilding aid.
We accomplished much through bi-partisan cooperation and persistence in the initial weeks. We demanded progress and accountability from the utilities, and more than 17,000 out-of-state utilities workers came in to restore power as quickly as humanly possible. We worked daily with President Obama to get FEMA aid and housing assistance flowing quickly (more than $264 million in disaster assistance was distributed to more than 49,000 New Jerseyans by the end of November and more will be coming). Together state, federal, and local officials met the challenge of fuel supply disruption by implementing an orderly restoration of supply across the state, while giving priority to fuel for generators at critical facilities, such as hospitals and wastewater treatment plants.
We have since acted decisively to move beyond the initial recovery and cleanup phase to rebuilding. To manage the complexities of planning and marshaling resources, I have appointed a Cabinet official, who will work directly with me, to serve as the single point of contact for rebuilding-related matters. We have also retained Witt Associates, a national firm with vast experience in disaster recovery and large-scale mitigation management, to assist with long-term rebuilding efforts. Currently a special advisor to the state of Louisiana, James Witt assisted in the aftermaths of hurricanes Katrina and Rita and served as FEMA director under President Bill Clinton.
As I’ve said, this is “our Katrina.” Thankfully, we fared much better in terms of lives lost (38 storm-related deaths), which I am certain we can attribute to our preparedness, leadership and the experience we gained during Tropical Storm Irene. We’ve estimated that Sandy either destroyed or seriously damaged 30,000 homes and businesses, and my administration has calculated the total damage left by Sandy—from housing stock, to roads, bridges, transit, utilities and other infrastructure—at $36.9 billion.
My Administration has every expectation that New Jersey will be treated similarly on a comparative basis with federal aid delivered in other natural disasters. The federal government must take into account the level of destruction, the unique character and needs of our state, as well as its role as an economic engine for the region and country as a whole. I am working closely with all our members of Congress, including Senator Frank Lautenberg and Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen, both members of their respective Appropriations Committees. I have also built on my excellent relationship with Governor Cuomo of New York to bring our combined bi-partisan authority and experiences to bear in Washington.
Now, more than at any other time, how we perform in our roles as elected and appointed officials will define us and the future of our state and communities. I urge everyone to rise to the occasion until we get the job done. Many of you have done that and done so superbly. I don’t need to tell you, however, that this challenge will demand much, much more of us. From this post-Sandy experience, I think you know by now that I have no interest or tolerance for politics or past political battles when it comes to dealing with our rebuilding. As I said, we are all in this together for the long haul and for the benefit of the state we love, the people we serve and future generations
First Published in New Jersey
Municipalities, Volume 90, Number 1, January 2013