Dawn Zimmer may have gotten more ammunition to support her case that Chris Christie tried to extort her into supporting a major development project as a condition of getting money to rebuild her city after Hurricane Sandy. NJ Spotlight, an online news site devoted to New Jersey issues, teamed up with WNYC to take a hard look at how money from the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program Energy Allocation Initiative was allocated after Sandy. The results? There are enough irregularities in the allocation system to raise a lot of questions.
An examination of the fund shows that despite a scoring system that awarded various towns and cities points for eligibility based on factors such as population size, population density, and previous FEMA claims, Hoboken has been awarded the same amount -- $142,080 -- as much smaller towns like Mt. Arlington and Old Tappan, neither of which experienced much damage from Sandy or previous storms.Check out the list here. The study didn't find any evidence that politics played a role in how the money was distributed--indeed, a good number of cities headed by Democratic mayors who endorsed Christie asked for money and didn't get it. However, at least one other entry raised eyebrows--Jersey City got far less money than Newark and Elizabeth.
And Hoboken was awarded far less than Nutley, which was allocated $556,000, despite being relatively unscathed by the storm.
Responding to inquiries from NJ Spotlight, a Department of Environmental Protection spokesman said a proper, objective process was followed in the scoring and ranking of these applications, and that it’s ongoing, so some of these awards might still be adjusted before they’re finalized and checks are cut. He said it’s unfair to draw conclusions from the data at this point. But many details about the behind-the-scenes process remain unclear, and the problems seem to extend beyond simply a few errant numbers.
A large part of the problem seemed to be that the system was highly flawed.
Speaking privately, one individual involved with the program said the general feeling was that there was little guidance given to municipalities and that state officials were basically flying by the seats of their pants, struggling to respond to an unprecedented disaster without getting overwhelmed and often figuring things out as they went along. In the end, this individual said, with hardly enough federal money in the program to satisfy the demand, it seemed destined for failure and “everyone got screwed” in the end.Additionally, only $75 million of HMGP money was available to cities, while state officials say they got a total of $14 billion in requests--so it's pretty much inevitable that cities will complain they got shortchanged. But even allowing for that, it's pretty hard to justify Hoboken asking for $1.3 million and not even getting a tenth of that, considering the damage it suffered. This comes on the heels of revelations that when Zimmer met with state officials to discuss storm relief last spring just after being flooded again by a heavy rainstorm, the first item on the agenda was that now-infamous project on the north side.
NJ Spotlight says that it has submitted detailed questions to Christie's office, with answers to come in a few days. Those answers ought to be very interesting.