When Hurricane Irene blew through Howell in August of 2011 it was the worst storm to hit our area in many years and most people thought it would be the worst we would have to endure for years to come.
For residents of a cul de sac of Mariners Cove that storm did enough to leave their homes largely uninhabitable. It was not until the past few months, and a year past the devastation of Hurricane Sandy that those homeowners learned that a combined effort between FEMA and the township will allow them to move on with their lives and convert their former homes into open space.
At last week’s meeting of the Mayor and Council an ordinance was introduced to purchase five lots for $614,250 through the State-Local Grant Agreement Hazard Mitigation Grant Program. For the township the money will come from the Dedicated Open Space Fund. Deputy Mayor Rob Nicastro who filled in for Mayor Bill Gotto at the meeting said there is still money in the fund and that it is replenished by a one cent tax the township already has.
Nicastro said many people were involved in finally bringing this process to fruition including Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno, Rep. Chris Smith and people at the county level as well. “This is a unique situation for Howell Township,” he said at the meeting. “There was a lot of political pull to get this done. This area was not technically in the qualified zone but a lot of us up here did a lot of fighting and we had a lot of support from high office, from the Governor’s Office down.”
He also credited the residents for being “champions on their own behalf.” One of those residents was Dawn Silva who tried a variety of ways to get help for her and her neighbors including speaking at town hall meetings with Gov. Chris Christie and showing Guadagno and Smith the damage when they came to the neighborhood.
Silva said she was glad the end of the process was close but that it has been a challenge having to work through everything for the past two years. “We’ve known for a few months now,” she said. “We feel great but it’s been frustrating at the same time.”
In the two years since Irene, the year since Sandy and the months since they learned that an agreement was in place Silva said there has been a lot of waiting for everything to finally come together. She also said she knows the township administration has worked hard for her and her neighbors. “FEMA basically told us this is a one time deal,” she said. “This is an exception that they made for us.”
Like many of her neighbors Silva said she has a new house that she is waiting to finish closing on pending the closure of this chapter in their lives. Her husband has been commuting to Atlanta for the past year and she said she is looking forward to having everyone under one roof again. “It’s been a long long long long road and I wouldn’t wish this on anybody.”
Having lived in the house since 1999 Silva said she is “all about moving forward.” Since that time her family has added four children and she said when she closes the door she has no plans on looking back. “I’m so grateful that no one will have to go through in my house what we went through.” Some of those memories are more powerful than others. “My kids will never have to be taken out of their house by boat again,” she said of the powerful flooding they endured. “They will never have to worry about sleeping at night when it rains again.”
Nicastro said he was glad the end was in sight of this struggle for Silva and the other residents. “I’m glad that it’s finally coming to fruition,” he said. “When you’re dealing with multiple levels of government things take a little bit longer than we would all like to.”
Councilman Robert Walsh, who served as mayor when Irene struck said he hoped the administration could take some valuable lessons away from being involved in this unique situation. “I think we all know that those houses should never have been built there but then again that was a decision that was made 30 years ago.” He added of the approaching resolution “It was a positive thing in government. It also showed you some of the faults in government that it took over two years. You wish government didn’t move as slow as the private sector and in some instances it doesn’t but in a lot of instances it does.”