The Federal Emergency Management Agency has approved $48.3 million in grants to shore up long-term flood protections in New Jersey, state officials announced Tuesday, bringing federal dollars to a state whose persistent flood problems have historically been overshadowed by more drastic flooding in the Midwest and the South.
The funding will allow state, county and local agencies to flood-proof buildings, take at-risk properties off owners' hands and minimize the impact that floods have on residents. Wayne Township will get the largest portion of the money, with almost $25 million approved. About $7 million will enable Little Falls Township to acquire 15 properties and elevate five others, while Mill Street Bridge in Essex County will be retrofitted at a cost of $500,000.
Praise for the grants marked a rare point of agreement among Democrats, Republicans and environmental activists. But U.S. Rep. Bill Pascrell quickly noted that the grants in his district had already been announced, suggesting that Gov. Chris Christie's administration was trumpeting federal funds that the state's congressional delegation had worked to secure.
"The federal government's millions of dollars in aid to help flood-prone communities, particularly those in Passaic County, is a story that bears repeating — and that is exactly what the state has done today," Pascrell said in a statement. "I was proud to partner with local towns to deliver federal resources home to Passaic County and other flood-prone areas."
Pascrell's 8th District includes the flood-prone area around the Passaic River, including Wayne, Little Falls and Nutley Township, which will pick up almost $3 million to buy properties that are likely to flood, giving owners the freedom to relocate to safer areas. Pascrell met numerous times with FEMA officials to convey the magnitude of flooding issues in his district, said Paul Brubaker, his spokesman.
New Jersey Sierra Club lauded the funding but called for more, while Republican Assemblyman Scott Rumana kept the credit close at hand.
"I applaud the efforts of the Christie administration, the various federal officials who have worked to assist us, and most importantly, the members of the Passaic River Basin Flood Task Force," said Rumana, who chairs that task force. He said the sum amounts almost double what the state received between 1995 and 2009.
New Jersey has been at odds with FEMA since Christie's request for a disaster declaration following floods in March was denied. In lieu of disaster aid, the state eventually secured loans for property owners through the federal Small Business Administration.