With New President, Council Looks to Continue Sandy Recovery in 2013

Council looked ahead to 2013 challenges at reorganization meeting Wednesday

Under the leadership of a new president and vice president, members of the Toms River Township Council said during their annual reorganization meeting Wednesday that they will continue to work toward recovering from Hurricane Sandy. 

"In 2012, we had a difficult year for Toms River. The town as we know it was fundamentally changed by Sandy," said George Wittmann, who was elected to lead the council as its president in the new year. 

"In 2013, our focus has to be on how we rebuild the town in a thoughtful way that allows our displaced residents to get back into their homes as soon as possible," he said. 

Councilwoman Maria Maruca was elected to serve as the council's vice president and said that the township will work with state and other officials to get residents the answers that they need as rebuilding continues.

"This is uncharted territory that we're in right now and we're going to get through this," she said. "I say without a doubt that 2013 will be brighter for this town."

Former council president Mo Hill said that 2012 ended "on a sour note" because of Sandy, but noted that the township had some accomplishments including the groundbreaking of a new animal shelter and the opening of a softball complex. Hill noted that officials continue to work on Sandy recovery efforts, which some residents — especially those in Ortley Beach — have said are not going quickly enough.

"It's moving," he said. "Maybe not as fast as everyone would like, but we're doing it in a safe manner."

Wittmann offered praise for township administrators and department heads for their response to the storm and continued recovery efforts and outlined "high level" goals for officials to focus on in the new year:

  • Determine the feasibility of an ordinance requiring that all ocean-front properties in Toms River comply with FEMA dune guidelines. If the township cannot legally pass an ordinance requiring these property owners build a dune, Wittmann said that state legislators may be called on to pass a bill. The township currently is seeking easements from beachfront property owners so that the Army Corps of Engineers can replenish dunes to prevent future flooding. 
  • Recent flooding in bay areas must be evaluated "quickly," Wittmann said. Mayor Thomas Kelaher has sent correspondence to the state Department of Environmental Protection calling on those officials to help, as a report states that sand displaced by Sandy may have found its way into the bay. 
  • The township will seek guidance on flood maps issued by FEMA. "There are inconsistencies that may cause our residents to make the wrong decisions as they rebuild their homes," Wittmann said. Some residents at the meeting Wednesday told the council that they are unsure of how to proceed with rebuilding because of the questionable maps.
  • Officials will seek increased aid to communities like Toms River that are losing ratables because of Sandy damage to avoid a tax hike. "It's time Toms River residents got their fair share of aid," Wittmann said. 
  • The township may consider creating a part-time ombudsman position lasting six-to-nine months to aid residents as they rebuild. The ombudsman would be on duty after normal work hours so residents would not have to loose time on their jobs while seeking guidance.

The council president said that he is "proud" of the township's response and looked forward to the upcoming year.

"Certainly if we work together as a team the town will be in very good shape," he said. 

Kelaher wished those at the meeting a happy new year and offered words of hope for those residents who still are unable to return to their homes.

"My prayer would be that mother nature gives us a break in 2013, get people back into their homes and return to normal as fast as we can," he said. 

Jo Meinhart January 03, 2013 at 08:55 PM
I was speaking to a resident of Silverton area today. His rebuilding is being held up because of permits needed. Supposedly Christie told communities to suspend red tape nonsense yet Toms River continues to hold up the rebuilding process with red tape. Yet the council meets photo ops taken and the people they serve wait around in frustration! I was at the people's pantry today and the shelves are bare! What is happening in our community?
Orbit January 03, 2013 at 09:46 PM
Not withstanding some of us are in the new V zone and need to raise our homes or face astronomical flood rates. Better make sure you follow the new flood zone map or else.
Green Island resident January 03, 2013 at 11:09 PM
To Joe Meinhart, There is no red tape to rebuild your home, the law requires that your if your home suffered 50% or more damage to it that you need to build it to the new code. This is a FEMA requirement that Christie cannot waive. The real issue is FEMA published Maps which are incorrect. As of today you can build your house under the current map and obtain a building permit, the problem is if you guess wrong you could face increased flood insurance rates. If you build 2 feet above the flood elevation and are not on the bay you should be fine.
Donna Griffin January 04, 2013 at 12:22 AM
What happens with the issue of a home surviving the last couple of weeks of astronomical high tides, but the roads being impassible due to flood waters? Will FEMA be requiring that the towns raise the roadways in order for those "raised" homes to be accessed?
Senior Citizen January 04, 2013 at 01:55 AM
Some of the money should be use for drainage on the barrier Island. We pay taxes to and have no sewer in Ortley beach yet I get a sewer bill every yearI also got a letter that this the fourth year we were not raised what did they do to that would warrant a raise


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