By Debbie Winogracki, Toms River Township
TOMS RIVER–Route 35 in Ortley was bustling with activityon February 7th. Mayor Tom Kelaher was on site to witness the removal of the debris that was located on commercial property. “I’m pleased to announce that after three months of requests by Toms River Township and Ocean County officials, FEMA officials have finally approved the collection of storm related debris, which has been placed in the right of way in front of commercial properties,” Kelaher stated. FEMA has a long-standing policy of not reimbursing municipalities for the collection of debris from private commercial property.
Mayor Kelaher was happy to announce that as of 6:00 pm February 6th, FEMA agreed to reimburse the township and Kelaher immediately arranged for contractors to remove the Rt. 35 debris. He said, “The contractor’s started at first light of day, and by noon substantial progress was made. The Township is doing everything possible to restore the beach area back to pre-Sandy conditions, and the revitalization of the businesses are essential to the restoration.”
Not only was the debris an eyesore, but it was too voluminous for some of the smaller businesses to remove themselves. When it became obvious that the commercial properties were not going to remove the debris on their own, Toms River officials pushed FEMA to see if they would reimburse the Township for the costs.
The Mayor said, “This is unprecedented for FEMA to pay for the debris removal costs on private businesses. I’m thankful that they approved this for us because it was creating a hardship for our business owners.”
Joseph Guarino, Owner of the Starlight Motel, personally thanked Mayor Kelaher for his assistance in the process. Guarino said, “I just want to thank the Mayor and Council for stepping up and helping us out. Councilwoman Maria Maruca called me a few times to let me know what was going on in terms of progress, and I am extremely grateful for everything the Township has done, and I’m grateful for their efforts. I couldn’t afford to pay for all of the debris to be removed from my business.”
Kelaher hopes Guarino and other area businesses will be able to open up soon and get back to a sense of normalcy. This debris removal program will be reimbursed by FEMA, in the same manner as other storm-related residential debris. Only the debris, which is already placed curbside, and has been inspected by FEMA field representatives prior to this approval, is qualified for removal. All other commercial debris is the responsibility of the property owner.