The Jersey shore community where a roller coaster plunged into the ocean, becoming the defining image of Sandy, hopes to let its residents move back home in January.
Seaside Heights Mayor Bill Akers said Wednesday night that he and the Borough Council hope to let people move back into the storm-battered barrier island next month. Gov. Chris Christie has to approve the plan.
"My hope is we can start repopulating sometime in January," Akers told a council meeting, which was held in a library in neighboring Toms River. Seaside is still off-limits at night because of lingering storm damage and cleanup work yet to be done.
"That's what we're shooting for," he said. "The governor has to sign off on our plan of repopulation. Until he says yes, it doesn't matter what I say."
Akers said Seaside Heights will propose its own repopulation plan and timetable and will present them to the governor as soon as possible.
Carol Rudzik can't wait to get back into the home she has lived in for 10 years. She's been staying with relatives while working a full-time job and trying to get back into town on Sundays to do what she can to clean up.
"It's hard to be displaced for this long," she said. "No insurance has come through yet; FEMA hasn't come through yet. I feel like I'm in limbo."
Seaside Heights, where MTV's "Jersey Shore" TV show was filmed, is letting residents back into town during the day to work on their homes. Starting Thursday, the hours will be expanded to 7 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Seaside Heights is where part of the Casino Pier collapsed during the pounding of the storm, pitching the Jet Star roller coaster into the ocean. Photos of it in the surf have become an iconic image.
There are some heartening indications that Seaside Heights' infrastructure is slowly getting back to where it needs to be. The barrier island on which Seaside Heights sits is undergoing work to restore natural gas service; Akers says he expects that work will be done by Dec. 31 in his town.
He also said water service is being restored in the southern part of town. The damage in the northern part of town was more severe and there are more broken mains and pipes that need to be repaired, he said.
Seaside Heights approved the solicitation of bids Wednesday night to repair its boardwalk. The mayor said he hopes work can begin by the end of the year or early January, and be completed by May 1.
He said Seaside Heights will not increase the price of its beach badges next summer to help pay for the boardwalk repairs as Belmar plans to do next summer. Seaside Heights will charge $5 per day, including weekends and holidays, Akers said.