A group of Sunshine Harbor residents are telling Point Borough officials that Sandy shoved them into a dark, cold, wet, scary place - and the town hasn't done enough to help pull them out.
A group of 16 residents met with some Borough Council members on Monday night to voice complaints and concerns about how the Borough has handled the crisis that left many in the waterfront, low-lying community flooded and in the dark in more ways than one.
While there was not always complete agreement on the myriad of matters discussed at the meeting, nearly all of the residents there expressed at least some dissatisfaction with some of the storm issues, including how the town handled the Oct. 29 evacuation order, security, communication about the community's two week power outage and trash and debris removal.
While the meeting was at times tense, it did result in an agreement from council members that the Borough needs to improve in all of the areas cited by residents.
The meeting was held at the home of Elissa Commins whose house on Glenwood is among a small percentage of Sunshine Harbor homes where Sandy didn't flood the first floor.
"It got the crawl space and the garage and I have to re-do the heating system," Commins said. "But I'm so lucky. I'm blessed to have a house that didn't flood that you can all meet in."
Not "Back to Normal"
While some of Point Borough is "getting back to normal," Sunshine Harbor, like Bay Head Shores, areas south of Bridge Avenue closer to Stop & Shop and other flooded areas of the Borough, isn't even close.
Many of the 250 homes in Sunshine Harbor, which is east of Beaver Dam Road, were badly flooded to the point where they are not habitable, which is evident from the amount of household debris dragged out of soaked homes to the street.
Many residents are living elsewhere because they have to or because staying home is simply too miserable or uncomfortable. Some of the residents at the meeting drove from Brick, Freehold and other towns where they are living with relatives or friends temporarily. The neighborhood had no power for two weeks after Sandy.
Break Out the Bullhorns Next Time
never reached many of the people who needed to hear it most, said some of the residents at the meeting.
The mandatory order followed two days of the Borough officials urging voluntary evacuations.
Some of the residents at the meeting asked why the Borough didn't have police or other emergency responders handing out leaflets urging evacuations or banging on house doors, as they did just before Irene in August 2011. Irene had been a hurricane but was downgraded to a tropical storm when it hit land.
Council member Chris Leitner said the Borough emergency officials had said that those efforts typically do not yield enough results to warrant the heavy use of manpower.
They said they understood residents' points that relying on websites and the public school district's Honeywell instant alert system were not sufficient because not all residents have computers or children in school. Only public school families receive the recorded Honeywell telephone calls.
Also, the decision to issue the mandatory evacuation was reached only a couple of hours before noon, the time the town wanted all in vulnerable areas to evacuate, noted Desiree Land of Middle Avenue. And around noon, she noted, many people lost power.
Land said the Borough should have used some low-tech methods, in addition to the Internet and Honeywell.
"When you wait until that morning to issue the order, you need the bullhorns," said Land, whose home was among the few that did not flood on Middle. She said the Borough also needs to knock on doors and possibly distribute fliers or leaflets to notify people to evacuate.
Leitner and Council members Toni DePaola and Bob Sabosik all said they think those measures should be taken in the future if another significant weather event is heading towards Point.
They also said they agree the Borough needs to do a better job in the future with communicating with residents. The three council members sat in the front of the room fielding questions, while Council members Bill Borowsky and John Wisniewski also attended.
But, despite the admitted shortcomings, Leitner said he still believes that the Borough's Office of Emergency Management did a good job.
"Well, you have a room full of people who say they didn't," said Land, who was sitting next to him.
Borowsky said, "I have to disagree with Chris. I've talked to hundreds of people and a lot of people don't feel this was handled the right way."
Leitner said the Borough also used a Nixle system to alert residents to the evacuation order. None of the residents knew what that was.
Leitner told the residents that Nixle is a type of Reverse 911 system.
"How do you know about it?" Land asked. "I didn't know about it."
Leitner said it had been publicized in Patch and newspapers.
"We're committed to establishing a Reverse 911 system," Leitner said.
Sabosik added that signs will be posted prior to the next significant storm to warn people to evacuate.
"We'll have signs made up," he said.
"Just like elections signs!" a woman in the back cried out, tongue in cheek, getting one of the few laughs of the evening.
"Well, I didn't want to say that," Sabosik replied, smiling.
After the meeting, Commins said she knew to evacuate, largely because of emails that Tom Bolcar, District 1 representative of the Sunshine Harbor Association Board, had been sending out to Sunshine Harbor residents during that weekend and Monday as the storm approached.
She said she left at about 1 or 2 p.m. that Monday to stay with a friend in Brick.
Were You There For Us?
Cindy Scully, who was attending the meeting with her husband, Michael Scully, said her street, Seagull Terrace, had been forgotten in terms of the debris piling up and what she described as no visits from local elected officials.
"Not one of you people came in back here," she said, angrily, looking at the three council members. "Not you, not the mayor."
"I've toured the hard-hit areas every day," Leitner said.
"You never saw me," Scully said. "Are you walking around knocking on doors? Because a lot of people need help now."
"I'm sorry I missed you," Leitner said. "But I was here. I knocked on 300 doors here and in town. I was at the Relief Center. When I wasn't there I was helping at the first aid squad or at the high school (where there was a shelter after the storm).
"Don't tell us we don't care," Leitner countered. "We care deeply."
Scully said after the meeting that while her home was not flooded, their cars, children's car seats and the rental next door was flooded.
On Tuesday, Schroeder said in the telephone interview that he had toured Sunshine Harbor and many other hard-hit sections of town many times, starting the day after the storm and ever since.
"I was also in Borough Hall from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. working on dealing with the storm and helping to set up the election," Schroeder said.
The Sunshine Law and the Invitations in Sunshine Harbor
As the meeting began, Leitner said the council members could not make decisions at the meeting since a majority of council members were present but it had not been advertised as a council meeting.
The state Open Public Meetings Act, known as "the Sunshine Law," mandates that local and county governing bodies advertise meetings in advance when a majority of the governing body will be present discussing policy or voting.
A few at the meeting thought Mayor William Schroeder was not there because he was at another meeting. On Tuesday, Schroeder said in a telephone interview that he had not been invited to the Sunshine Harbor meeting, so he did not go.
"I only knew about it because Chris Leitner emailed me about it, but I was not asked to go by anyone," Schroeder said.
Schroeder said he agrees that if another significant storm is approaching the Borough, that the town should again bang on doors and leave leaf fliers in mailboxes or taped to house doors. Unlike Leitner, who has been saying he thinks the Borough needs a Reverse 911 system, Schroeder said he's not sure.
"For a few days before the storm, everyone knew it was coming," he said. "Everyone you went in town, that's all people were talking about. Some people just didn't want to leave. I don't think a Reverse 911 call would make those people leave. Maybe knocking on doors would be better because then you have that face to face interaction. But it's up to the council. I wouldn't want to spend thousands of dollars on it. But it's up to them. I'm just the mayor, I don't vote on it."
In the Borough Council form of government, the mayor only votes when there is a tie.
Complaints About JCP&L and the Borough
Land also criticized what she characterized as the Borough's failure to inform the public when power would be restored.
Leitner and Sabosik said that the Borough couldn't get an answer from JCP&L on when power would be restored, not even through repeated phone calls and not through an in-person visit to their substation in Point Beach.
(See JCP&L's response regarding prolonged power outages in the region at bottom of this story.)
The council members said the best thing for the community to do is to file written complaints with the state Board of Public Utilities (BPU).
"Our electrical infrastructure is very old and needs to be replaced," Leitner said.
For more information about filing complaints with BPU, click here.
Regarding police issues, Eric Wagner said his home in Sunshine Harbor was nearly broken into shortly after Sandy left his first floor flooded.
"The chief said there were no break-ins, but my home was nearly broken into," Wagner said. "My son is living upstairs now as our security because we don't have any."
Police Chief Larry Williams said, "I know Eric well. His mother called me and asked if we could patrol."
He said the department of 30 full-time officers and five part-time, special officers has been doing the best it can to serve the entire town, including Sunshine Harbor.
Regarding Sunshine Harbor specifically, Williams said, "We're there 24 hours a day checking the area. I used to live there, my grandparents used to live there, I know it very well. The first day we were able to get in there, the Wednesday after the storm, I was driving around Sunshine Harbor at 7 a.m. talking to residents. I personally spent a number of hours patrolling, in addition to the officers patrolling."
He said the National Guard members were patrolling in National Guard vehicles along with Borough police officers.
When asked if any extra patrols will be added to Sunshine Harbor, Williams said, "Everything is fluid throughout the town. There are about 7,500 homes in Point and we have an obligation to all of the homes and businesses."
The National Guard was in the Borough for two weeks, sleeping at the Borough High School, which was closed during that time, and often eating dinner at the Point Boro First Aid Squad on Beaver Dam Road where volunteers were serving the community around the clock before, during and after the storm.
Some of those Guard members, who spoke to Patch at the time, were also getting sent to other towns during their shifts, even as they were based in the Borough.
Some residents asked why the Guard was not in the Borough longer, as they are still in Bay Head.
Sabosik said at the meeting that the decision for the National Guard to leave was made by Mayor William Schroeder and Williams.
"That's not true," said Williams, when asked about it on Tuesday. "The Guard made that decision themselves. I stopped by on Saturday morning (Nov. 10) only to find out they were leaving."
Commins suggested that residents work together to form a Community Watch. Sabosik noted that DePaola is the liaison to the Borough Community Watch program which has been working to get the word out about its efforts and hoping to get more volunteers.
Collection of Trash and Debris
Many residents said there had not been nearly enough pick-up of trash and debris. Leitner said the Department of Public Works (DPW) or private contractors had "been through" Sunshine Harbor at least three times.
Commins said, "DPW is working seven days a week."
Sabosik said the Borough hired 15 part-time employees and an outside contractor to help clean up the mountains of debris in the Borough's flooded communities. Sabosik said that as a resident of a street in Bay Head Shores, he understood residents' complaints.
"There's a lot of debris on my street too," he said.
Marge Brown, whose house was among many flooded on Laurel Drive, said she had not seen trash trucks nearly enough. At the height of the storm, her son, who lives on River Road, rescued her from her flooded house.
"He got us in a kayak," Brown said.
By Wednesday, Bolcar had sent out a group email to residents saying that council members were getting answers to residents' questions about many issues and that due to council actions, the clean-up seemed to be improving in at least some parts of Sunshine Harbor.
Schroeder said that the Borough has been picking up trash and debris from Nov. 5 and continuing this week and has only taken two days off. He said that effort has resulted in collecting one million yards of debris.
Register with FEMA
All residents whose primary residences were flooded or damaged by Sandy should register with FEMA to be eligible for reimbursement for costs related to repairing storm damage. To contact FEMA online or by phone:
Register by phone at 800-621-FEMA (3362) or TTY 800-462-7585 for those with hearing or speech impairments. Specialists are standing by at the toll-free numbers seven days a week, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. local time, until further notice. Help in languages other than English is available. Or you can register online at www.DisasterAssistance.gov.You can also apply through a web-enabled mobile device or smartphone by visiting http://m.fema.gov/ and following the link to "apply online for federal assistance."
To visit FEMA, go to the site at the Bay Head Firehouse, Bridge Avenue, Bay Head or the Brick Township Civic Center, 270 Chambers Bridge Rd., Brick, where there are also representatives from the Small Business Adminstration which helps businesses that had storm damage.
Apply for Lower Tax Assessment
Any property owner in Point Borough whose property was flooded or damaged by Sandy can apply for a lower tax assessment.
UPDATE: The form supplied by Sabosik to Patch is not the correct form to use, according to Point Borough Tax Assessor Robyn Palughi. Palughi sent the correct form, along with an explanatory memo, to Patch on Wednesday afternoon and Patch has removed the wrong form and attached the correct form and the memo to this story. Please note the deadline is Jan. 10 as explained in the memo.
JCP&L Response to Complaints About Prolonged Outages in New Jersey:
Super Storm Sandy was the worst storm in the history of JCP&L and a catastrophic event for New Jersey. The combination of a hurricane, full moon, high tide and storm surge resulted in unprecedented damage to JCP&L's infrastructure and affected virtually all of JCP&L's 1.1 million customers.
The company responded by securing mutual aid from across the country including 8,500 line workers, 1,500 forestry workers and an overall workforce of more than 12,000 individuals in New Jersey to restore service to customers. Their work included rebuilding, repairing and restoring a system that took decades to build in less than two weeks.
We continue to focus on hardening our system and working with federal, state and local authorities on a plan to restore service in areas where customers are unable to accept service as a result of devastation to roads, homes and infrastructure.
We understand our customers' frustration and are fully committed to working with the Board of Public Utilities on the review process to best address our customers concerns.