With the whir of front loaders and bulldozers pushing sand on the beachfront behind him, Gov. Chris Christie today pointed to rebuilding an aggressive dune system as perhaps the most important step in restoring and safeguarding tourism, property and residents' lives along the Jersey Shore.
After surveying the rebuilding of dunes flattened by Hurricane Sandy, Christie outlined how state grants for post-disaster employment needs were directly rebuilding the beachfront of Bradley Beach. Here, 12 workers were the beneficiaries of the National Emergency Grant, secured in the days following Hurricane Sandy.
Christie said the grants had put 428 to work in 11 hurricane-ravaged towns statewide, with 658 more to be employed through state Department of Labor programs.
The governor's visit to Bradley Beach, a town Christie said was saved from widespread Sandy damage thanks to its dune system, was on Monday morning for the twin purpose of discussing the importance of rebuilding dunes and also to announce continued employment and training grants which could aid the Jersey Shore's rebuilding.
'We need to rebuild an aggressive dune system'
Christie said the stories of oceanfront devastation vary widely throughout the Jersey Shore, but that dune-protected areas fared better.
Nearly every shorefront community should be planning an "aggressive dune system," Christie told a crowd of about 100 local officials, residents and media on Ocean Avenue Monday.
"The work being done, from sand sifting to sand moving to dune building to bulkhead building is essential," said the governor.
The Army Corps of Engineers would have a large part in the dune restoration process, especially if a federal bill for Sandy aid passed tomorrow. Plans for dune work were already approved for Sandy Hook to Harvey Cedars, Christie said.
"The Army Corps of Engineers have already authorized it; they just need the funding to be approved for it," Christie said.
Christie had strong words for private beachfront associations and landowners hesitant to grant easements or who are otherwise continuing to investigate dune building on their property.
"There should be no debate," said the governor. "They are being extremely selfish and shortsighted."
The dunes should be protecting the shore, and that is more important than an individual's concern, he said, and the state would look into how to ensure the battle over dunes is won.
"They're putting people's lives and property at risk because they want to have a better view," he said.
Christie: Dept. of Labor programs will spur employment
The day after Sandy hit, state Labor Commissioner Harold J. Wirths worked to secure $15.6 million in National Employment Grant funds to work on the cleanup and rebuilding jobs initiative.
Today's press conference outlined how three state labor programs — Recovery4Jersey, Skills4Jersey and Opportunity4Jersey — will create jobs, train and update skills, and seek out employers looking for skilled workers, all specifically to aid employment sectors impacted and in demand after Hurricane Sandy.
Whether it is a national utility company or a mom-and-pop restaurant, these programs are available for employers undertaking the rebuilding and restoration work, Christie said.
Two hundred employers have applied for the grants so far in the first round of funding. Another deadline for employers is January 18.
"This is really good news about their willingness to invest in the state," Christie said of the companies awarded approximately $26 million in grants.
Four months until Memorial Day
Bradley Beach Mayor Gary Engelstad invited Christie to Memorial Day along the beachfront, to see how far they've come.
"There are four months until Memorial Day," said the mayor. "We've got a great story to tell."
The story must be told, Christie said, to spur tourism to areas that are "Open for Business."
"If they know the beaches are ready, they will come," the governor said of tourists.