Fallout from flood dominates FIT discussion

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OCEAN CITY – Although Joe Clark was the featured speaker at Friday afternoon’s Fairness In Taxes meeting, an audience of 10 had fewer questions about contracts for the city purchasing agent than they did queries about flood-related issues.

Led by FIT president Michael Hinchman, the group grilled Clark for answers on the city’s involvement in the restoration of Peck’s BeachVillage, the federally subsidized housing development in the 300 and 400 blocks of West Avenue that was destroyed by Sandy’s floodwaters.

Since the city evacuated the 60-unit complex on Nov. 5, 2012, Clark said it has spent between $1.2 million and $1.3 million in repairing the damage done by the two feet of water that inundated the neighborhood when Sandy struck on Oct. 29.

Questioned as to the wisdom of the city spending that much money on repairs to structures in an acknowledged low-lying area that will suffer the same damage should a similar storm strike, Clark said, “I can’t speak to why they did what they did, but I do know they wanted to get people back as quickly as possible.”

He said if the city had not intervened on behalf of the complex’s displaced families, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which provides the bulk of the development’s funding, would have needed a “five- or six-year cycle to get it done.”

As to why the city awarded contracts for mold remediation, and heating, plumbing and electrical work without putting any of the jobs out to bid, Clark said, “We had to make a decision right away. In an emergent condition, all bets are off. You do what you have to do.”

In the case of Peck’s Beach Village, that included installing new floors and walls, and purchasing new appliances and hot water heaters, all to the specifications of HUD.

“HUD tells you exactly when you can buy, down to what color,” he said.

Clark said Friday that 20 of the units are complete, which is contrary to what Nicholas Thompson, executive director of the Ocean City Housing Authority, said earlier this week.

On Tuesday, the three-month anniversary of the historic storm, Thompson said all 60 units were in various stages of repair, with the possibility that the 10 odd-numbered units between 401 and 419 might be completed by late next week. Other units, he said, were more than a month away from completion.

At the conclusion of the two-hour meeting on topics that included the city’s inability to attract a bid on the municipal golf course, the status of the Second Street marina, plans for the potential sale of $353,000 worth of warehoused ipe, and Clark’s explanation of how the city purchasing division awards contracts, Hinchman again returned to how Sandy continues to affect Ocean City.

Initiating the discussion with “I don’t understand,” Hinchman tried to make sense of City Council’s recent adoption of the base flood elevation plus two feet ordinance and Gov. Christie’s ordering FEMA’s advisory flood maps become New Jersey law.

“Isn’t it going to cause widespread dislocation down the shore?” he asked of the new rules that reportedly will force homeowners to choose between the expense of raising their homes, which some have quoted to cost a minimum of $50,000, or the expense of paying dramatically increased flood insurance premiums, said to be as much as $30,000 a year for homes in the highest-risk category. “It’s damned if you do and damned if you don’t.”

Vic Staniec, who gave a report on activity in the schools, including no anticipated increase in the $21.6 million school budget, said municipalities will have the opportunity to appeal FEMA’s maps before they are adopted by the federal government in 18 to 24 months. Others said it is a widely held belief that the maps will be less restrictive when they are adopted.

“Uncertainty is the worst thing for business,” Hinchman said, “and there’s tremendous uncertainty up and down the coast.”

He suggested the city “get organized” and do an assessment of what properties suffered flood damage and to what extent in order to better argue against the adoption of FEMA’s advisory flood maps.

The next FIT meeting will be held March 1.

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