LoBiondo talks Sandy recovery, flood insurance at Ocean City Chamber luncheon

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Claire Lowe / US Rep. Frank LoBiondo addresses the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce as guest speaker during the chamber’s luncheon March 20 at The Flanders. Claire Lowe / US Rep. Frank LoBiondo addresses the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce as guest speaker during the chamber’s luncheon March 20 at The Flanders.

OCEAN CITY — Positive things are happening for South Jersey, US Rep. Frank LoBiondo told a crowd of business representatives during the Ocean City Chamber of Commerce luncheon Thursday, March 20 at The Flanders Hotel.

LoBiondo was the guest speaker at the luncheon and updated the chamber on a variety of topics including Hurricane Sandy recovery funds, the National Flood Insurance Program, tourism and infrastructure projects.

“The big thing for us in the state of New Jersey has really been Sandy recovery,” LoBiondo said. “For any of those who followed it closely, we had a Titanic struggle to get the money for the relief from the storm.”

He said that despite delays by members of Congress who wanted to “change the rules of game” and require the funds be offset with budget reductions, recovery money was secured in the form of block grants to be handed out by the state government.

“While we still have a lot of work to go, there’s been a lot of good news,” LoBiondo said. “We were able to have included in that mitigation fund the Army Corps projects for essentially the entire state.”

The Sandy relief package from Washington included several US Army Corps of Engineers beach replenishment projects, including a project which covered Ocean City’s south end, Strathmere and Sea Isle City, with some projects being funded 100 percent in the first year.

“That’s going to be a big break for taxpayers in the 2nd Congressional District,” LoBiondo said.

He said that Ocean City’s southend project is currently scheduled for the fall.

“We had a big challenge when the Army Corps got the authorization for the money for the entire coast. They couldn’t do everything before Memorial Day,” he said, adding that there were other challenges in the south end, too.

While homeowners at the shore are still working to secure recovery funds, some faced the added burden of increases in their federal flood insurance bill, he said. Earlier this month, Congress approved several changes to the 2012 Biggert-Waters flood insurance bill, which will offset anticipated premium increases.

LoBiondo said that in this case, persistence paid off. He gave credit to Sen. Robert Menendez for getting the issue raised in the Senate.

“It’s not a perfect bill, but it’s a good bill,” he said, adding it was also common sense, bipartisan and fiscally responsible.

He said Congress was challenged with coming up with a flood insurance reform bill that would get the National Flood Insurance Program solvent, help out homeowners and still have a positive score from the Congressional Budget Office, which he said scores every bill.

“We took a bad situation and turned it into a tolerable situation,”’ LoBiondo said, adding that the problem is now solved.

He thanked communities, mayors and freeholders for pushing for reform.

Statewide infrastructure projects funded with federal dollars are also moving forward, LoBiondo said.

“Locally, we have some good news,” he said, pointing to the Garden State Parkway traffic signal removal project in Middle Township.

According to LoBiondo, 12 years ago, $40 million of federal funds were secured to eliminate the parkway traffic signals, but the project did not move forward.

“A lot of people thought it wouldn’t happen,” he said of the project, which is currently underway. “I think ultimately it’s going to be really good news for us.”

He said another “big win” for South Jersey was announced a few months ago when the Federal Aviation Administration’s William J. Hughes Technical Center in Egg Harbor Township was chosen as one of six test facilities in the nation for drone research and development.

Calling it the “premier facility in the world for safety research and development,” LoBiondo highlighted some of the work done at the FAA Tech Center, which employs 4,000 people.

“A lot of the material on these new airliners are the result of work done at our tech center,” he said.

LoBiondo said drones have a variety of applications including medical, agricultural, in disasters and for inspection of projects. He said the FAA Tech Center in Egg Harbor Township will also do the validation and integration work that comes from the other five test sites.

“I think the bad news for us is still unemployment is still unacceptably high,” LoBiondo said. “I even question the national statistics.

“The Department of Labor will try to convince you and me that there are less people in the workforce than there were 30 years ago.”

LoBiondo said Washington should be responsible for setting a climate to create jobs, but has not done so.

Gary Jessel of Fox Real Estate thanked LoBiondo for his work locally, staying in touch with constituents and remaining in Congress long enough to get things done, including the flood insurance reform bill.

“Our sales market for the spring is doing extremely well. That would have been devastated. And our rental market is off the charts,” he reported.

Jessel said that rentals are running 20-35 percent ahead of last year’s numbers.

Mayor Jay Gillian, filling in for his wife Michele Gillian, executive director of the chamber, said that LoBiondo was a strong voice for the private sector.

He said Michele Gillian could not attend Thursday’s luncheon because she was accepting a state tourism award on behalf of the chamber for its post-Sandy tourism campaign.

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