By Thomas A. Arnone
One month post-Super Storm Sandy and county employees continue with due diligence in piecing Monmouth County back together.
The county Office of Shared Services has been in contact with both Union Beach and Belmar, two of the hardest hit coastal communities in the county, to offer our support and assistance as the main focus right now is rebuilding and recovery. We will continue to partner with them as they rebuild and aid them by providing services that result in a significant cost reduction to the municipality.
The county Department of Economic Development has been working closely with FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), Small Business Administration (SBA) and the U.S. Department of Commerce to ensure that we remain knowledgeable and aware of the various programs and services available to businesses that were impacted by Super Storm Sandy.
Recently, a business rebuilding conference call was held for county businesses. I hosted the call and included staff from the departments of economic development, planning and the tax board. Each participant discussed how their department could help those businesses that were adversely impacted by the storm. Representatives from FEMA and SBA were also on the call to discuss direct grant and loan assistance.
Additionally, a roundtable took place on Monday, Dec. 3, in order to give county businesses and municipal leaders the opportunity to inform the U. S. Department of Commerce about the specific economic impact of the storm.
Also noteworthy, Jeanne De Young, director of tourism here in Monmouth County, wasted no time in getting out to personally tour several of our coastal communities with the executive director of Travel and Tourism for New Jersey, Grace Hanlon, and the director of the Jersey Shore Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, Bob Hilton. They met with hotel and restaurant owners and other business leaders in Red Bank, Atlantic Highlands and Asbury Park.
Although businesses were impacted in varying degrees, everyone remains hopeful.
Despite evacuations and loss of power, each tourism community is already looking forward to the next summer season – mapping out plans to return the Jersey Shore to its place as a fantastic vacation destination.
In addition, De Young recently attended an event at the Meadowlands that was set to focus on the 2014 Super Bowl. However in the aftermath of Sandy, the discussion was turned to storm recovery. The event hosts brought in representatives from New Orleans who hosted a Super Bowl on the heels of Hurricane Katrina. Plans are already under way to begin charting a course for the promotion on Monmouth County in 2013. We will be concentrating heavily on focusing on the good news about our many seasonal events, excellent shopping and great restaurants. A meeting is being organized for our tourism community leaders to get their input and to develop a united position in advance of next year’s promotional activities.
Besides this, the county, through the Workforce Investment Board (WIB), has been awarded $1.26 million from the Hurricane Sandy Disaster National Emergency Grant. These funds are to provide temporary employment on projects for the cleanup, demolition, repair, renovation and reconstruction of destroyed public structures, facilities and lands in the affected areas. Funds may also be used to provide temporary employment in humanitarian assistance jobs (e.g. distribution of food, clothing, shelter and other types of humanitarian assistance for disaster victims).
As I stated in my previous newspaper entry, kudos to Monmouth County employees for their stellar performance before, during and after Super Storm Sandy.
At this time however, I would like to point out some of the actions taken by the Division of Public Works and Engineering that began well before the storm even made landfall. For example, the Division of Bridge personnel, with assistance from outside contractors, began pumping water and/or lowering levels of water at the high hazard dam locations in order to prevent catastrophic failures as experienced during Hurricane Irene last year. This operation proved to be successful and extremely cost effective.
The county Division of Buildings and Grounds personnel worked nonstop in supporting the Office of Emergency Management (OEM) by setting up shelters, transferring supplies, installing generators and coordinating delivery of donations. As a result of the storm, fuel deliveries were disrupted. The county Division of Fleet Services supported the municipalities by obtaining fuel from various sources and dispensing from the Highway Districts. A county tanker/refueling truck provided diesel fuel to standby generators at critical structures practically nonstop during the two-week period.
Fleet Services also provided support not only to county departments and municipalities, but also to the National Guard, FEMA, FBI, State Police and many other government agencies. The county Division of Engineering deployed damage assessment teams to inspect county infrastructure and buildings to develop repair designs and drainage reports. The Traffic Safety Unit began installing portable generators at critical intersections due to lack of power from JCP&L in order to have traffic control devices operational.
The Division of Highway was deployed to the bay-shore towns to assist in fortifying the berms to slow the flooding. Before and after the storm, personnel and equipment were working from Bradley Beach to Sea Girt transferring sand back on the beaches, removing debris in Monmouth Beach and Sea Bright, and assisting the bay-shore towns of Keyport, Union Beach, Keansburg, Highlands and Atlantic Highlands. Highway crews also transported a tremendous amount of safety supplies to the affected towns. This is work that is ongoing and will continue.
These examples just touch the surface of the numerous resources the county Department of Public Works and Engineering had deployed to assist our municipalities and residents in their time of need. As liaison to the Department of Public Works and Engineering, I am extremely proud of the job done and credit it to some well-organized excellent planning, along with the capabilities of county equipment and of course a superlative staff!
Lastly, during the height of Hurricane Sandy, the Department of Public Works and Engineering deployed three high wheel transports to Union Beach and one to Belmar with nine personnel who rescued more than 250 people stranded in flooded areas, on roofs or in submerged vehicles. These individuals are to be commended for their bravery and professionalism.
Undoubtedly, their efforts that night made a difference in many lives but in particular the lives of those who were saved. The strength of Monmouth County lies in the determination and courage continuously set forth by its employees. The Board of Chosen Freeholders most gratefully thanks you.
In keeping with positive developments in Monmouth County, it gives me great pleasure to report that the long-awaited opening of the Monmouth County Connection Office has finally arrived. On Saturday, Dec. 1, Monmouth County officials were joined by state, federal and local dignitaries as they cut the ribbon to officially open the Monmouth County Connection located at 3544 State Highway 66 in Neptune, conveniently located adjacent to the Home Depot and across the street from Walmart.
The County Connection is a satellite office to the already existing County Clerk’s office. This new office of the Monmouth County Clerk is offering a variety of services including passports, passport photos, free notary public, county IDs, veterans’ IDs, election/voter information, senior and veterans’ services, public access computers and more.
Thomas A. Arnone is freeholder deputy director for Monmouth County.