FEMA Originally Denied Funding Request; Smith Led Efforts to Help Overturn Denial
Rep. Chris Smith celebrated the official opening of the newly reconstructed Ocean Grove Boardwalk today, joining the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association (OGCMA) in cutting the ribbon on the boardwalk that was largely destroyed by Superstorm Sandy. The federal funding for the project came after Smith and others worked with the Association as they appealed two previous denials.
Standing alongside Governor Chris Christie, President of the OGCMA Dr. Dale C. Whilden, Senator Jennifer Beck, and Neptune Township Mayor Dr. Michael Brantley, Smith praised the community for its resiliency and the partnership between federal, state, and local leaders that helped reverse FEMA’s original decision and strong opposition to the reconstruction project.
“Today is truly a great day for Ocean Grove, Neptune Township, Monmouth County, and the Jersey Shore, and a critical step forward in our recovery from Sandy,” said Smith. “This boardwalk is an integral part of Ocean Grove the neighboring Jersey Shore community, a fact we reinforced during our efforts to reverse FEMA’s original decision at the local level—and yet another at the regional level—to deny critical funding.”
“With unrelenting determination and teamwork, we brought the case to critical decision makers in Washington, holding meetings with FEMA in my congressional office. On the second appeal, a skillful oral presentation given to FEMA by Ocean Grove leaders left no doubt as to the boardwalk’s important emergency and public health and safety function—resulting in FEMA’s reversal,” continued Smith.
“Not long after the Storm I visited the boardwalk, and vividly remember the total devastation all around. Dr. Whilden, J.P Gradone, Bill Bailey, Ralph DelCampo and all those with OGCMA deserve great credit for their tenacity and tireless efforts to rebuild and restore the Ocean Grove community and boardwalk.”
FEMA originally deemed OGCMA ineligible for federal assistance as a private, nonprofit entity, despite facts to the contrary. Following the denial, Smith helped lead an effort with OGCMA leadership, Governor Chris Christie’s office, and in particular, NJ “Sandy Czar,” Mark Ferzan, Neptune Township and Ocean Grove’s state legislators—State Senator Jennifer Beck and Assemblywomen Caroline Casagrande and Mary Pat Angelini—to petition the federal agency in Washington to reverse its decision.
Following several discussions and meetings in Washington, including a pivotal June session in Smith’s Washington, D.C. office with top FEMA officials—and a letter to FEMA making the request—the Agency agreed to allow Ocean Grove’s leaders to present an oral argument on second appeal in Washington.
In the appeal process, the OGCMA—the non-profit organization which owns the boardwalk—demonstrated that it has a unique history in helping with government services in Ocean Grove. They demonstrated further that the boardwalk is a vital economic artery for businesses in Ocean Grove and neighboring towns, and is also a heavily-traveled thoroughfare used by police and emergency services to access to the beaches, connecting Neptune to the towns of Asbury Park to the north and Bradley Beach to the south.
In December 2013, FEMA announced its reversal and deemed the Ocean Grove boardwalk an eligible facility for federal public assistance. On February 4, 2014, Ocean Grove received final notice that a federal grant for the construction of the boardwalk would be available, and on February 7, Smith met with key personnel from the local, state and federal levels for the project’s planning meeting. On May 9, Rep. Smith announced an award of $2,377,629 in federal funding for reconstruction of the boardwalk.
Smith also worked to persuade FEMA to approve a 90 percent federal share for FEMA funding going to all Jersey public assistance programs that pay for cleanup and reconstruction costs—instead of the initially planned 75 percent.
“The FEMA grant for Ocean Grove represents 90 percent of the cost of this work, while the CMA cost share is only 10 percent,” Smith said. “Had FEMA not raised the cost-share rate from 75 to 90 percent, the added cost to Ocean Grove would have been nearly $400,000 more.”