Friday, November 01, 2013

Toms River Continues To Rebuild A Year Later

I attended Wednesday's Tri County Chamber of Commerce Economic Development Luncheon in Pottstown to hear Paul Shives, Business Administrator for Toms River, NJ, speak on the recovery that Toms River faces from Sandy, even a year later.

Toms River is the ninth largest municipality in New Jersey, numbering over 90,000 residents at this point. Because of its size (41 square miles) and its position along a barrier island, Toms River features the most waterfront property of any New Jersey municipality. Given Sandy's eye moved ashore to their south, the Toms River area was particularly hard hit from the storm. 

Most of Toms River is west of the back bay; however, two parts of the community are along the barrier island -- Ortley Beach (which we're all aware of the damage) and Dover Beaches.  These are a part of the same barrier island that Mantoloking resides on -- the barrier island that was breached by Sandy's storm surge coming in at high tide during a full moon.

Shives stated that while there's a lot that needs to be done in Toms River, much has been accomplished through partnership among state and local officials, as well as hard work by locals in numerous capacities. He was particularly kind towards Governor Christie, commending his administration on a couple of occasions for their willingness to partner with local level agencies and for pushing FEMA to get a field office opened in the community when one was not originally planned.

Google Maps shot of Ortley Beach from earlier this year.
If you weren't aware of the scope of damage in Toms River, here are some statistics to put things in perspective. 9200 structures were significantly damaged or destroyed in the community. 35,750 sixty foot length dumpsters were needed to remove debris from the community. In fact, Shives mentioned that the last debris removal from the barrier islands occurred yesterday on Halloween.

Out of Toms River's $10 billion property tax base, 20 percent of that was lost due to the storm. That leaves a significant economic impact in the community for basic government services, which forced Toms River to look for loans and financial assistance to ensure government functioned in the community but also to help with rebuilding efforts.

Google Maps shot of Mantoloking from earlier this year.
The community has invested $28 million in public works projects -- things from roads to utilities to parks, also has worked on facilitating workshops to help residents navigate the FEMA minefield and new flood zone regulations that were issued late last year.

Is there progress? Yes. Is it fast enough? Arguably not for a number of individuals. Shives admitted to USA Today and also to the Chamber audience that township officials believe rebuilding was a three to five year proposition.

That said, things are improving gradually at the Shore.