20 Aug 2014
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Stop FEMA Now Founder Fears Middle Class Exodus From Jersey Shore

Residents rally outside the Sandy-ravaged Surf Club in Ortley Beach

Stop FEMA Now Founder Fears Middle Class Exodus From Jersey Shore Stop FEMA Now Founder Fears Middle Class Exodus From Jersey Shore Stop FEMA Now Founder Fears Middle Class Exodus From Jersey Shore Stop FEMA Now Founder Fears Middle Class Exodus From Jersey Shore Stop FEMA Now Founder Fears Middle Class Exodus From Jersey Shore Stop FEMA Now Founder Fears Middle Class Exodus From Jersey Shore Stop FEMA Now Founder Fears Middle Class Exodus From Jersey Shore Stop FEMA Now Founder Fears Middle Class Exodus From Jersey Shore Stop FEMA Now Founder Fears Middle Class Exodus From Jersey Shore Stop FEMA Now Founder Fears Middle Class Exodus From Jersey Shore

On any given day or night in the past, Joey Harrison's Surf Club parking lot on Sixth Avenue in Ortley Beach would be packed with cars.

But that was before Oct. 29, 2012. There is no parking lot left. And soon the Surf Club will be a memory. Superstorm Sandy took care of that.

Two oceanfront homes battered by Sandy served as a backdrop for the latest meeting of the grassroots group Stop FEMA Now. The meeting was held in the Ortley Beach section of Toms River - the spot many consider the epicenter of devastation in Ocean County.

Stop FEMA Now founder George Kasimos pointed to the pale-yellow house knocked off its foundation, as seagulls wheeled overhead in a cerulean sky. The Atlantic Ocean roared beyond the new dunes.

"Six months," he said disgustedly. "And this has been what's accomplished by FEMA. Six months."

State officials need to take the lead in obtaining easements from homeowners, so dunes can be bulked up, Kasimos said.

"There was a big sea change when we saw Gov. Christie take the lead in obtaining easements," he said. "Much better for New Jersey, rather than individual towns. It seems to me the state is taking a more active part."

"Without those dunes, Ortley Beach can never come back," said one man, a member of the Ortley Beach Voters and Taxpayers Association.

Kasimos and Stop FEMA Now members are on a mission. They want to dump the Biggert-Waters Act of 2012 and raise the dunes up and down the Jersey coast.

"We have a few hundred here," Kasimos said, gesturing towards the crowd. "The rest are going to come. They know what zone they are in. We have almost 4,000 people on Facebook. We need more."

"FEMA needs to get it right and they need to get it right right now," he said. "We need to make the barrier island a barrier."

Both Republican state Assemblymen David W. Wolfe and Gregory P. McGuckin said they would push for dune replenishment.

"You can help us by keeping going," Wolfe said. "We live here. We have a stake in our environment. We need your help. We really need a lot more help. We have to really keep the pressure up."

Years ago, some elected officials in Northern Ocean County towns decided not to opt for dune replenishment, Wolfe said.

"They chose not to have the dunes rebuilt," he said. "We are not going to let that happen again."

"The first question is whether the legislature will even vote on the dunes," McGuckin said. "We don't set the agenda. The 9th and 10th district are prepared to support that type of legislation."

Kasimos also blasted FEMA for not providing enough support for owners with secondary homes damaged by Sandy.

Second homeowners should have the same right as primary homeowners. You're not a second class citizen in my eyes."

"We are all devastated," said one man who has a second home. "I have an 800-square-foot bungalow. I worked my butt off. They will force the middle class out of their houses. This is ridiculous. It's a crime."

Money from the FEMA's highly competitive Hazard Mitigation Grant program will not be available for at least six more months and perhaps as long as 24 months, Kasimos said.

"Do you really need an agency to tell us this house is gone?" he said, pointing to the yellow house. "We are not even close. 187 days. Our struggles are just beginning. This is what we are going to go through for the next several years."

Both Democratic Senators Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez voted in favor of the Biggert-Waters Act, which will raise flood insurance premiums 25 percent a year over the next four years, Kasimos said.

"I think at some point we have to start calling out some of our elected officials," he said. "How often since Sandy has Senator Menendez been down at the Jersey Shore?"

"He's in the Dominican Republic," one woman in the audience quipped.

Seaside Park resident Faith Ligouri - the former director of the Ocean County Department of Human Services - said according to FEMAs advisory base flood elevations, half of her house is in a V zone, the other in an A zone.

"I don't know how to raise half a house," said Ligouri, who penned a now well-know letter entitled "Homeless in Seaside Park."

South Seaside Park resident James Fulcomer said the state must grant easements for Island Beach State Park, so the Army Corps of Engineers can include the park dune in replenishment.

"A DEP spinster claimed it was just a washout and it had no impact," Fulcomer said. "You tell that to the people whose homes were flooded. We need it all the way along the barrier island."

Kasimos had an ominous message for the crowd.

"Oh, and hurricane season is also coming," he said.

 

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