A state Senate committee circled back to Toms River today to take testimony on issues surrounding coastal planning and rebuilding in the wake of Hurricane Sandy to mark its fifth round of superstorm-related hearings since late November.
Though previous hearings held by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee centered on collecting feedback from municipal officials, utility company representatives, first responders and members of the public about Sandy's impact, today's hearing focused on the mechanics and technical aspects that hard-hit communities face in their efforts to restore devastated property and infrastructure.
"Listening to the folks who are on the ground is one of the best ways we can learn about what the Legislature can do to help people move forward," said Sen. Paul Sarlo (D-Wood Ridge), the committee chairman, in a statement.
Two representatives of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers testified that Congress had allocated $280 million for New Jersey beach replenishment projects before the storm hit, though those funds have not yet been earmarked for specific projects.
To make adjustments to those projects and their financing that account for damages incurred by the storm, Lt. Col. John C. Becking, of the Army Corps' Philadelphia district, said part of the federal Sandy relief package will "give us funding to conduct a study that will look at those things and future flooding issues," though he noted "we're not going to know those answers for a while, as that study would last two years." Additionally, Becking said, the Congress-approved funds that are necessary to launch that study — as well as full-blown rebuilding efforts throughout the state — aren't expected to reach the engineers until after May 1 at the earliest.
Among the other engineering and environmental experts who testified today: Mark Mauriello, former commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection; Jon K. Miller, assistant professor of civil, environmental and ocean engineering at Stevens Institute of Technology; and Stu Farrell, director of coastal research at Stockton College.
Today's Sandy-related Senate committee hearing marked the fifth in a series that started in Toms River on Nov. 26. Since that date, legislators have taken testimony in East Rutherford, Highlands and Trenton from local mayors, county officials, commissioners of state departments and the heads of New Jersey utility companies.