A special hearing of the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee was held on November 26 in Toms River to assist in providing the State Legislature with a more complete understanding on the damage from Hurricane Sandy in preparation of infrastructure rebuilding efforts. Two additional committee hearings are scheduled to be held in other impacted areas of the state as part of a bipartisan Legislative effort.
Senator Christopher J. Connors was appointed to serve on the committee for the special hearing in light of Hurricane Sandy’s heavy impact on the 9th Legislative District. Senator Connors, along with Assemblyman Brian E. Rumpf and Assemblywoman DiAnne C. Gove, continue to work with constituents and local officials on Hurricane Sandy related issues.
The 9th District Delegation issued the following joint statement regarding the Committee hearing:
“Rebuilding our state’s infrastructure damaged by the Hurricane will require deliberate planning and a high level of coordination among all levels of government. Equally important, local governments will need the financial resources for infrastructure repair to allow for a comprehensive and efficient recovery process to be completed in an acceptable time frame. The Committee hearing held in Toms River is among the Legislature’s initial steps to prepare for any legislative actions that can be taken on a wide range of issues to move the recovery process forward as well as to better prepare New Jersey for any similar events in the future. Prior to Hurricane Sandy, our Delegation fully recognized the pressing need for New Jersey, as a coastal state, to more comprehensively prepare for such an event. This included sponsoring legislation that instituted a series of actions to enhance state emergency evacuation procedures.”
In 2005, following the devastation of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the 9th District Delegation was the first to call for a more comprehensive effort to prepare New Jersey for a similar catastrophic event by learning from the experiences in New Orleans and other affected areas of the Gulf Coast region, including how to overcome challenges that could severely hamper evacuation efforts. Upgrading the transportation infrastructure in the state’s coastal counties was also among the priority action items in readying the state for an emergency situation.
This bipartisan effort led to the formation of Coastal New Jersey Evacuation Task Force, which was created through legislation sponsored by the Delegation. Given its susceptibility to severe weather as a barrier island, Long Beach Island was chosen by the Delegation as an ideal location for a Task Force hearing which was held in October of 2007. As Mayor of the host municipality, Assemblywoman Gove, who was not yet serving in the Legislature, addressed the Task Force regarding local concerns. Chief among the issues discussed during the hearing was the need to complete the Route 72 Manahawkin Bay Bridges project, as the Route 72 Causeway which serves as the only means of ingress and egress to and from Long Beach Island.
Assemblyman Rumpf, in his capacity as Vice-Chairman of the Task Force as well as a ranking member of the Assembly Transportation, Public Works and Independent Authorities Committee, worked to develop the recommendations that were made in the Task Force’s final report issued to the Legislature in May 2008. In January of this year, the Governor signed into law legislation sponsored by the 9th District Delegation to implement the Task Force’s recommendations. Key provisions of the law include, but are not limited to:
► Requiring the Director of the State Office of Emergency Management (OEM), in consultation with the Emergency Management Offices of affected counties and municipalities, to develop an annual public awareness program to educate the public concerning the State’s plan to evacuate New Jersey’s coastal areas in times of emergency.
► Allowing counties to establish a central registry for individuals with special needs who may need additional assistance during an emergency.
► Requiring that the State Police, the Department of Transportation (DOT) and county emergency management coordinators implement a lane reversal strategy on the Atlantic City Expressway and the Garden State Parkway in preparation for an evacuation during an emergency.