New Jersey Still Sitting on FEMA Sandy Energy Funds
Delays Caused by Continual State Dithering and Ever Shifting Priorities
Washington, DC — More than two years after Superstorm Sandy, most of the funds allocated to New Jersey by the Federal Emergency Management Administration to mitigate future storm-related hazards have yet to be obligated, according to federal records obtained in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit brought by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). In the case of the FEMA Energy Hazard Mitigation grants at the heart of political reprisal complaints by Hoboken Mayor Dawn Zimmer, no funds have been spent as the state is just now submitting paperwork to FEMA for projects.
FEMA documents indicate that as of November 19, 2014 New Jersey has obligated less than half (46%) of the $328 million allocated to it for the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program. With regard to controversial energy grants to municipalities to buy or fix generators serving critical facilities, such as shelters, and emergency operation centers, such as police and fire stations, the results have been far worse – to date zero dollars have been obligated despite several false starts by the state.
In October 2013, the Christie administration notified 144 towns, notably excluding Hoboken and other Democratic strongholds, they would receive energy awards. This February after PEER exposed the political pattern of awards and gaming of the point system, the state rescinded its announcement, claiming that flawed data entry caused “scoring errors” that needed to be fixed. In July 2014, the state Office of Emergency Management proclaimed that errors had been corrected as a result of a rigorous “quality assurance /quality control” process and listed 136 projects to receive funds. FEMA documents obtained by PEER, however, indicate that the state has only in the past few weeks –from September to November 17 – submitted paperwork for only 34 projects (one quarter of the total), all of which are under review.
Aggravating matters is that the state’s plans keep changing. New Jersey has requested that FEMA increase its energy allocation from $25 million to $40 million but has not disclosed how that would affect awards. Meanwhile in a letter dated September 2, 2014, the state notified FEMA that it should expect even further changes in project priorities, warning –
“Be advised that these numbers are subject to change as we move forward in the recovery process.”
“At this late date without a firm recovery plan, the Christie administration truly is the gang that couldn’t shoot straight,” stated New Jersey PEER Director Bill Wolfe, noting that the Governor’s office actually issued a press release at the end of October about its progress in one of the very few areas of FEMA hazard mitigation program that was on schedule. “The track record on post-Sandy grants for which the state is responsible suggests fundamental and systemic mismanagement.”
In its transmittal of the document to PEER, federal officials make clear that it is state tardiness and not federal red tape that is responsible for delays:
“The Energy Allocation Initiative is managed by the state. It is NJ’s responsibility to decide how they will use the funding and prioritize projects submitted to FEMA and be accountable for the use of those federal funds. NJ requested an increase in funding from $25 million to $40 million. How and why the funding was increased is not a question we would pose the State. We are only here to guide them as to whether what they would like is or is not compliant with programmatic regulations… Again, FEMA has not obligated funds towards the EAI program because projects recently submitted are still under review.”
“After Sandy struck, more than 2.7 million people were without power for two weeks. These are the grants that are supposed to prevent crippling blackouts yet they all remain stuck in the Christie spin cycle,” added Wolfe, who obtained the documents in a lawsuit filed by PEER after FEMA failed to provide documents about New Jersey’s grant status. “Governor Christie needs to stop gallivanting around the country to stay home and take care of the basic business of governing.”
New Jersey PEER is a state chapter of a national alliance of state and federal agency resource professionals working to ensure environmental ethics and government accountability