By John Burton
RED BANK – Sea Bright is rebuilding, residents are moving back and there are promises the beach will be ready for next summer, the mayor and borough council, say.
Three weeks after Super Storm Sandy devastated the small beachfront community, Mayor Dina Long and the six-member borough council held its municipal meeting at Red Bank’s Count Basie Theatre Tuesday evening. The governing body offered its assessment of where the borough stands and discussed plans for moving forward.
Before a crowd of about 250 people, the council authorized a $3 million emergency expenditure to help cover the cost for the storm and its aftermath.
That amount is about half of the borough’s annual municipal budget, said Councilman William J. Keeler, who chairs the council’s finance committee.
He said he holds out hope that the borough’s insurance coverage “should cover a great deal, if not all of the $3 million” through a combination of money from Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the borough’s coverage with the Joint Insurance Fund (JIF), which underwrites municipalities’ insurance coverage.
Reimbursement through JIF, however, he warned, may be slow in coming.
Borough officials also expect to hold another meeting with FEMA representatives next week. Local officials are continuing to pursue available financial grant opportunities, Keeler said.
Work continues to be done to restore electrical power and natural gas service to borough locations, said Councilman James A. LoBiondo. He told the audience JCP&L, the power utility, has completed repairs to the substations serving Sea Bright and replaced meters that were compromised by salt water. The utility is continuing to repair damaged transformers, but no timeframe was given as to when that work would be completed.
New Jersey Natural Gas also is continuing to turn on the gas to properties that can safely use it, LoBiondo said.
Water service should be available and damage to the sewer pump stations have been repaired.
Property owners will have to contract with private electricians and plumbers if their locations were compromised to ensure gas and electricity can be safely turned on, he said.
Marilyn Jaccard, a former Sea Bright resident who now lives in Highlands, wondered about a recent Wall Street Journal article discussing whether communities like Sea Bright, ravaged by the late October storm, should rebuild.
“There are some arguments out there to not rebuild,” Long said. The mayor quickly added, “there are just as many compelling arguments to continue.”
Councilman C. Read Murphy said the council is authorizing proposals for work on the borough’s beach bathing pavilion, that was destroyed by the storm, is proof positive of the governing body’s commitment to move forward. “So what’s gone will be back,” he said. “We will have a Sea Bright Beach next summer.”
The Army Corps of Engineers’ beach replenishment project for the length of the borough beach, planned long before Sandy, began this week, Read said.
Public and private property for the small community of approximately 1,500 year-round residents, sustained an estimated $450 million in damages, the amount local officials submitted to FEMA, Long said.
“We are recovering and looking to rebuild,” and are moving forward, with some people having already returned to their homes, she said.
“We truly believe in the future of Sea Bright,” Murphy said. “This town is coming back and it’ll be stronger than ever.”
The borough council used the Red Bank theater because its usual meeting site, Cecile F. Norton Community Center on Ocean Avenue, continues to be used for relief activity.
“After our last two council meetings with substandard conditions,” Long said, “we were looking for a warm place.”