The boardwalk fire in Seaside Park , New Jersey, will be allowed to be rebuilt using funds from federal aid that was earmarked for the recovery of Super storm Sandy victims according to remarks made by Housing and Urban Development Secretary (HUD) Shaun Donovan on September 18, 2013.
The investigation blamed faulty wiring as the cause of the fire, that wiring was compromised by the exposure of salt water by Sandy that eroded and ultimately caused the fire. That wiring was in a spot that was inaccessible to officials during any subsequent inspection. This particular finding has paved the way for Governor Chris Christie to legally use some of the Sandy aid to rebuild the iconic boardwalk once again, a move that is not a popular one among New Jerseyans who have expressed their feelings both in forums on social media and talk radio.
Donavan was quoted by the Asbury Park Press as saying that “there’s no question that if there’s any relationship to Sandy, we can work closely with those communities to make sure that CDBG can be an effective tool to rebuild,” Donovan said. “And even if it wasn’t directly related, if they were still in the process of rebuilding from Sandy and something like this happens, we do have some flexibility to make sure that CDBG can be a tool.”
The overwhelming consensus by those who expressed an opinion in any of the forums is that the money should be used to help homeowners that almost a year later are still trying to get back on their feet and that it should not be diverted to the tourism industry who are business owners and as such, should have had fire insurance just like any other business would. The concept raises more questions about where the line is drawn between being a victim of Sandy and being responsible business owners that are benefitting from federal funds that have already rebuilt their businesses once from the storm. At what point are they considered a closed case and responsible for the normal operations of the business, which would include responsibility for fire insurance?
Christie supports rebuilding the boardwalk damaged by the fire with the federal funds despite the backlash of sentiment about doing so. The dilemma raises a lot of moral questions about what is a right and wrong use of the funds, and the precedent it creates for any future problems that could also arise from the long term after effects of Sandy. How many times will this be an issue going forward on the part of a boardwalk that is still standing?
At what point do we draw the line? If someone’s house burned down from faulty wiring after being rebuilt and caused by wiring that was inaccessible to inspection; would that house be covered by the same funds or would the resident be expected to use their homeowners insurance to pay for the damage?
Although it may be distasteful to inject politics into the issue, it would be naïve to think that it does not play into Christie's hand with Election Day only about six weeks away. After all, let’s not forget, this is still New Jersey and politics is always a consideration and a way of life.
How far and high the disapproval of using these funds is voiced by a public outcry remains to be seen, but don’t expect Christie to change his mind because of public pressure. His popularity is still very high, he enjoys a large approval rating and he has made doing what’s not popular part of his style.
Just like those who fought the fire, Christie has proven over his four years in office that like them, he can also handle the heat and the backdraft.