As Chris Christie touts progress after Superstorm Sandy, hecklers voice outrage - By John Ensslin and Jame M. O'neill, NorthJersey.com
Still not back in their homes four years after Superstorm Sandy, protesters confronted Governor Christie on Friday, disrupting an event held to promote his administration’s recovery efforts.
“I’ve got to shout at my governor to get something done,” George Kasimos, a member of a group called “Stop FEMA,” yelled at Christie. “I don’t even call you governor any more.”
George Kasimos, one of the founders of the group Stop FEMA Now, was among the protesters who disrupted Governor Chris Christie's speech at Jimbo's Bar & Grill on the Seaside Heights boardwalk Friday, October 28, 2016.Christie was a few moments into a speech at Jimbo’s Bar & Grill in Seaside Heights when about a dozen people stood on their chairs holding up signs and shouting him down. He stepped away from the lectern for several minutes and spoke one-to-one with some residents, taking down their contact information.
“I won’t be content until all the people who are yelling and screaming stop yelling and screaming,” Christie later said to the crowd of 100 people who had gathered at the boardwalk tavern. “These are complicated issues and they don’t lend themselves to explanations when people are yelling and screaming.”
Christie marked the fourth anniversary of Superstorm Sandy with two public events Friday, one in Bergen County and the other on the boardwalk in Ocean County.
Christie’s response to the storm — his embrace of President Obama, his forceful demand that people evacuate, his trademark blue fleece sweat shirt — marked the high point of his tenure.
Since then, however, his approval ratings have plummeted, his bid for the presidency failed and three of his former allies have been linked to the George Washington Bridge scandal. And all the while, critics of the Christie administration have complained about the pace of recovery. And environmentalists have said many of his policies will do nothing to reduce the effects of climate change, such as a rise in the sea level and more powerful storms that can push greater storm surges at the shoreline.
On the attack
At his Hackensack stop, hours before he was heckled in Ocean County, Christie lashed out at those critics.
“We’ve gotten the job done in the rebuilding from Sandy,” he said.
“It is fashionable today to be critical of government and everybody in it,” Christie continued. “I understand that. That’s the media focus, that’s the atmosphere they’ve helped to create in our state and across our whole country. But I am extra proud of what all of us working together have done over the last four years.
“There will always be critics,” Christie said. “And I am happy to take the criticism. Because when you take the criticism that means you’re actually in a position to do something. The people most of the time who are hurling the criticism are the people who have never accomplished anything in their lives worth note.
“This weekend is a weekend for us to take a moment to remember what we felt like four years ago,” he said, “and take a moment to celebrate how far we’ve come since then.”
The PSE&G substation in Hackensack was inundated by storm surge and then rebuilt and elevated to prevent damage from future storms.
The project, Christie said, was one example of how far the state has come over the past four years to improve the resiliency of key infrastructure against the sort of catastrophic damage that Sandy inflicted.
“We’re highlighting resiliency today because, man, we are a lot better off than we were four years ago,” he told a small gathering of PSE&G officials and electrical union workers.
Christie started his public commemoration with the stop in Hackensack, he said, because of the destruction Sandy wrought to such communities as Little Ferry, Moonachie and Carlstadt.
“I wanted to start in Bergen County because I think sometimes people don’t pay nearly as much attention to what happened up here,” Christie said. “We need to continue to remember that those folks, just as much as folks at the Shore, had their lives turned upside down.”
He ran off a laundry list of the damage inflicted by the storm: 325,000 housing units affected, $5.9 billion in overall damage, 19,000 small businesses closed temporarily or permanently, 70 percent of gas stations in northern New Jersey that were closed or had sparse delivery.
He said 71 percent of electric distribution in the state was cut off by the storm. He noted that 100 transmission lines were out of service, 5,000 transformers and 9,500 utility poles were damaged or destroyed, and 50 substations were damaged or knocked out. “That’s not a small problem,” he said.
“This substation was two feet under water at points,” Christie said. In fact, one of the older pieces of equipment off to his side had a line painted in white several feet above the ground — the level to which the water from the Hackensack River covered the site during the storm.
In Ocean County, Christie said several contractors had been prosecuted on fraud charges. He also said the state opened the rebuilding program to contractors who had not been pre-screened after hearing complaints that the process with the approved contractors had been going too slowly.
And he put part of the blame for problems on the National Flood Insurance Program. He said that program first paid out too little in claims, then too much. When the agency sought the state’s help in recovering some of those funds, Christie said he refused.
Rebuilding the PSE&G substation was a $20 million project that included replacing and raising the site’s electrical distribution equipment 4.5 feet. The substation improvements were part of PSE&G’s $1.2 billion Energy Strong program, designed to strengthen the utility’s electrical and gas infrastructure to withstand future storms.
“Because of our infrastructure investments to date, if a Sandy-like storm were to occur today, about 225,000 customers impacted by flooded substations and switching stations during Sandy would not lose power,” said Ralph LaRossa, PSE&G’s president. “And customers who did lose power would be restored more quickly.”
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