SPECIAL REPORT: Steadfast And Strong In The Wake Of Superstorm Sandy

The flooded Whitehall subway tunnel in Manhattan.

By Donna Clapp
From the March/April 2013 issue

The aerial photos taken after Superstorm Sandy swept through the Northeast in October 2012 told the whole story. Houses and businesses cleared away, leaving swatches of sand or burned-out ruins in their wake. Not just in some small, low-lying areas, but huge tracks of land from Atlantic City, NJ to Breezy Point, NY. The tunnels leading to Manhattan filled with water, huge trees were pulled up by their roots, and the beloved boardwalks of the Jersey Shore were either pulverized or simply washed away, with some shore towns, like Belmar, NJ covered in sand for miles. For many people in the area both their homes and businesses were wiped out in a single night.

Nearly 50 fatalities were reported in New York in the days after the storm; the death toll in New Jersey did not exceed 40 thanks to heroic efforts by NJ Gov. Chris Christie and many others to successfully evacuate nearly 1 million state residents from vulnerable areas on the Garden State’s 130-mile-long coast.

In the wake of Sandy, electricity was cut off to 7 million of New Jersey’s 8.8 million residents; 136,000 families were left homeless; more than 10 million cubic yards of debris had to be cleared from public property; the Jersey Shore, which generates more than $40 billion in revenue annually for the state, was decimated.

The night after the storm passed through, Gov. Christie said, he logged onto Google Earth and took a look at his state from space.

NJ Gov. Christie

“It was dark,” the governor said.

In the weeks immediately after the storm hit, the enormous scope of the economic damage inflicted by Sandy came into focus: In November, economic research firm Moody’s Analytics put storm losses at $49.9 billion. About $30 billion of the loss came from the physical storm damage, split fairly evenly between households, businesses and public infrastructure such as rail lines, roads and water and sewage systems. The rest of Moody’s estimate comes from lost business activity. Moody’s also estimates that Sandy will be the third most costly U.S. natural disaster, trailing only the $157 billion total economic loss from Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the $54.5 billion loss from 1992’s Hurricane Andrew (totals adjusted for inflation).

In January, HuffPost reported that Sandy damaged or destroyed 305,000 housing units and disrupted more than 265,000 businesses in New York. In NJ, 346,000 housing units were destroyed or damaged, and 190,000 businesses affected.

The good news is that the governors of NY and NJ began recovery assistance efforts immediately, and both states have poured extensive monetary and human resources into helping business move back toward a level of economic equilibrium.

NJ Mobilizes Storm Relief

Gov. Christie’s administration recently unveiled its proposed Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Disaster Recovery Action Plan, which outlines how the State plans to utilize $1.8 billion in federal funding. This is the first phase of CDBG funds provided to NJ by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Additional CDBG recovery funds are expected in the coming months. With this first phase of funding, NJ is focusing primarily on helping homeowners, renters, businesses and communities impacted by Superstorm Sandy.

The Christie Administration will dedicate more than half of this funding for low-to-moderate-income households, in accordance with HUD guidelines. Additionally, per HUD guidelines, 80 percent of the funds will be dedicated to the nine most heavily impacted counties in the state: Atlantic, Bergen, Cape May, Essex, Hudson, Middlesex, Monmouth, Ocean and Union.

Bay Head, NJ

If approved by HUD, the Christie Administration expects that more than 20,000 homeowners, more than 5,000 renters and more than 10,000 businesses will be helped, as well as dozens of local governmental units.

“This plan puts into motion the specific actions we’ve been designing to get relief out as quickly as possible to our Sandy-impacted homeowners and businesses—to reconstruct, rehabilitate and elevate homes, and to get over hurdles for our small businesses to get up and running again,” says Gov. Christie. “These programs have been carefully, but quickly designed to fill the unmet needs faced by our residents to rebuild in a safer, more enduring way, to strengthen our impacted local economies going into this summer and to help preserve the unique character of our shore communities as we’ve known them. With this first round of funding, we will also begin an aggressive marketing effort to let people both in the region and across the country know that New Jersey is rebounding and that the Jersey Shore will be open for business this summer.”

As part of the plan, the Christie Administration is setting aside $500 million in funding for the New Jersey Economic Development Authority to administer the following activities:

  • Small Business Grants of up to $50,000 to eligible businesses that sustained physical damage. A $300- million allocation will fund grants that can be used for purposes including rehabilitation, new construction, equipment, inventory, mitigation, refinancing and working capital.
  • No-Interest Loans for Storm-Impacted Small Businesses ranging from $100,000 to $5 million for documented physical damage not covered by other sources. These loans are intended to assist eligible businesses that suffered physical damage, as well as spur economic revitalization by providing funding for expansion and new businesses in storm-impacted areas.
  • Neighborhood And Community Revitalization Programs to provide funding of up to $10 million to help communities rebuild commercial areas with public facility improvements such as streetscapes, lighting, and sidewalks and undertake other activities critical to restoring and strengthening local economies, including micro-loans for storm-related damage and loan guarantees as well as façade and code-related improvements.
  • A Tourism Marketing Campaign to promote storm-impacted businesses and shore communities by letting the nation know that New Jersey is recovering and that communities are open for business. The $25-million campaign also would encourage New Jerseyans and tourists to shop local.

In addition, the NJ Business Action Center is working to increase awareness of access to state and federal programs, attending local chamber of commerce roundtables and regional/county business development events, continuing outreach to key economic development partners and collaborating with higher education. The Economic Development Authority (EDA) is leading the Main Street Disaster Relief Program, boosting the lending capacity of community development financial institutions, and, following approval of New Jersey’s Action Plan from HUD, will work to provide grants and no-cost loans to small businesses, and launch an aggressive marketing campaign to help storm-impacted businesses and communities.

President Obama joins Gov. Christie at a post-Sandy press conference in Brigantine, NJ.

“In response to this natural disaster, New Jersey has coordinated a range of multi-agency resources to assist impacted businesses and ensure they are operational quickly,” says Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno. “Providing a thorough and interdepartmental business recovery assistance program is another demonstration of our support for our business community and their workers. The Business Action Center can help businesses tap into a variety of resources that will help them begin to recover from this catastrophic storm.”

On top of these new programs, New Jersey has a number of incentives in place to help with the recovery. Many loans, disaster relief and other programs that are helping companies rebuild are being implemented at the local and state level. Here are some of the programs being offered by NJ to assist companies during the recovery process:

  • REBUILD New Jersey: This program provides low-interest loans to businesses that are recovering from the storm. The loans range from $10,000 to $30,000 and can be used to pay for building repairs, equipment and inventory purchases, rent or mortgage payments, salary expenses and utility costs.
  • Clean Energy Program: Any business owner that is recovering from Sandy and is located within one of the identified damaged areas may be eligible to receive enhanced incentives on high-efficiency equipment/ appliances under NJ’s Clean Energy Program.
  • Main Street Disaster Relief: This program provides guarantees of up to $500,000 for commercial lines of credit to businesses that need access to cash to improve their damaged property while awaiting insurance proceeds.
  • Storm Recovery Loan Program: Launched by UCEDC, a non-profit economic development corporation, this program is a low-interest, fast-turn-around, working capital loan program for small businesses damaged by Sandy. Small business owners can borrow up to $25,000 at 2 percent interest for five years with no collateral requirements. For larger capital needs, the program offers loans up to $250,000 with conventional interest rates and processing periods.

Preparing For NJ’s Future

There are also several initiatives in place to invest in New Jersey’s future growth. A $26-million investment by the state Department of Labor Workforce Development aims to connect those that are unemployed to Sandy recovery job opportunities through:

  • Recovery4Jersey: Funds will support private sector companies focused on rebuilding New Jersey. Companies working with utilities, construction and other cleanup efforts will have access to this grant for up to $100,000.
  • Skills4Jersey: This initiative focuses on upgrading the occupational, literacy and safety skills of current employees and the training of new employees.
  • Opportunity4Jersey: Focused on filling the need for skills workers, this step of the initiative will fund training programs directly connected to the need of a number of employers.
Seaside Heights, NJ

Companies continue to invest in New Jersey, with recent announcements by Lockheed Martin, Pfizer, Amazon and others. In fact, the Partnership for Action continues to be very busy responding to companies expressing interest in the state. According to the state, the volume of requests has actually increased since Sandy.

This may be due to the fact that the state has been more aggressive than ever to let the world know that NJ is open for business. Choose New Jersey, Inc. launched an integrated marketing campaign titled “New Jersey. A State of Resilience” in January targeted at corporate decision-makers in key markets. Advertisements were strategically placed in Washington, D.C. during the Presidential Inauguration, New Orleans during the Super Bowl and Mardi Gras, and at the Site Selectors Guild Conference, as well as and on highway billboards throughout NJ. The ads will continue to run throughout the year in top metro areas based on alignment with New Jersey’s target industry sectors.

In addition to these advertisements, the Partnership for Action and Lt. Governor Kim Guadagno have been taking the message on the road, meeting with companies and site selectors face-to-face in New Jersey, as well as in other U.S. and international markets to make sure they know New Jersey is open for business.

Superstorm Sandy obviously put tremendous pressure on the state’s utility infrastructure. PSE&G announced a $3.9 billion, 10-year proposed infrastructure plan at the end of February that will raise many electric switching stations and substations throughout New Jersey to protect them against any future natural disasters. The plan is awaiting approval from the Board of Public Utilities.

NY’s Rapid Response

Just a few days ahead of Gov. Christie’s action plan announcement, NY Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo submitted New York State’s proposal for housing and business recovery programs to HUD to help New Yorkers devastated by Superstorm Sandy. These programs will provide billions of dollars in direct aid to individuals, homeowners, and small businesses using funding from the $60 billion Sandy Aid approved by Congress in January. The State designed the diverse array of programs to specifically target federal aid to New Yorkers most in need and ensure the affected communities, and the entire region, builds back smarter and stronger than before.

President Obama speaks with NY Gov. Cuomo in Staten Island.

“Superstorm Sandy was the worst storm to hit New York State and our region in recorded history, and its impact devastated homes and businesses across Long Island and the metro area,” says Gov. Cuomo. “This plan was put together with the input of homeowners and small businesses in affected communities, and it will serve as a blueprint to guide our housing and private sector recovery.”

Recently, HUD issued rules and regulations governing the use of the first $1.7 billion allocated to New York. The programs will be offered outside New York City (NYC will administer similar programs to meet the same needs its own CDBG-DR allocation of $1.7 billion). The Action Plan represents the spending plan only for this initial allocation of CDBG-DR funds and does not reflect the full scope of recovery activities being undertaken by NY through other state and federal programs.

“I look forward to building on the partnership we have created with Governor Cuomo to help communities in New York rebuild in a way that makes them stronger, more economically competitive and better able to withstand the next storm,” says Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan, who also serves as Chair of the Hurricane Rebuilding Sandy Task Force.

Gov. Cuomo has made it clear that preparing for the next storm must also include some tough decisions about which areas should be restricted from rebuilding. The NY governor wants to set aside $400 million to purchase vulnerable shore properties and restore them to uninhabited wetlands.

Breezy Point, NY

NY also proposes to use $415 million to help businesses replace or repair lost or damaged inventory and equipment, repair and mitigate damaged facilities, and cover working capital needs. The funds will be disbursed through the following programs:

  • Small Business Grants—$233 million: NY will direct grant funds to help businesses, including farming and agricultural operations, and non-profits that suffered physical damage or inventory loss, as a result of Superstorm Sandy. Grants of up to $50,000 to cover eligible, uncompensated losses are proposed to enable an affected business to purchase or repair needed equipment, repair or rebuild facilities that were damaged or destroyed in the storm, and/or provide the working capital necessary to sustain and grow the business. The state may extend grants up to a total grant amount of $100,000 to businesses that suffered physical damage and are at risk of closure or significant employment loss without an increase in grant size. Special Business Mitigation Grants of up to $100,000 are also proposed to cover expenses such as installing back-up generators or elevating key equipment, to help prevent damage to these businesses in future disasters.
  • Small Business Loans—$130 million: NY will create a low-interest loan program to help small businesses, including farming and agricultural operations, and non-profits that are at risk because they suffered losses of inventory, or physical assets as a result of the storm. Loans of up to $1 million may be available to help these businesses purchase or repair needed equipment, repair and rebuild facilities that were damaged or destroyed in the storm, and/or provide the working capital necessary to sustain and grow the business. Loans of higher amounts may be offered to eligible businesses that are at risk of closure or significant employment loss. Terms will be flexible, with interest rates held below 2 percent for borrowers.
  • Business Consulting, Mentoring—$3 million: NY will create an online network to facilitate connections between consultants and business practitioners who are willing to provide consulting and mentoring services to small businesses hit hard by the storm. Up to $3 million will be used to build the network and support the providers of the consulting and mentoring services, including financial management, real estate, marketing, legal and industry-specific assistance.
  • Coastal Fishing Industry Recovery Program—$20 million: Coastal fishing supports thousands of jobs in New York State. Superstorm Sandy caused significant damage to the fisheries along New York’s coastline, and while these fisheries will also be eligible to participate in the other small business assistance programs announced today, the industry is subject to unique considerations. To help this vital industry recover, New York State will create a targeted program to support grants of up to $50,000 available to affected businesses. These grants would cover otherwise eligible, uncompensated losses and help the industry prepare now for the upcoming fishing season.
  • Seasonal Tourism Industry Recovery Program—$30 million: While these seasonal tourism businesses also will be eligible to participate in the other small business assistance programs, seasonal small businesses in coastal and riverine communities require an immediate injection of support to ensure that they can reopen and operate in time for the upcoming summer season. Accordingly, the state seeks to provide grants of up to $50,000 to eligible businesses in this industry. The grants will cover otherwise eligible, uncompensated losses and working capital needs to help them prepare for the coming season.

In addition, New York State will create a dedicated infrastructure bank to help coordinate infrastructure development and investment across the disaster region. An initial capitalization of $20 million from the first allocation of CDBG-DR funds will be combined with State funds and committed to financing eligible infrastructure projects that apply for assistance through the Bank. The Bank will benefit New York by introducing a centralized approach to infrastructure related decision making rather than a project-by-project, agency specific process. The focus of the Bank’s investments will be on projects that increase the resiliency of the area’s infrastructure to withstand future threats or provide redundancy of critical systems. It is expected that the Bank will be funded with up to $200 million through subsequent allocation rounds or such other amount to be jointly determined with HUD.

The infrastructure bank will take several steps to carry out these goals, including developing a system for prioritizing infrastructure projects and initiatives, providing a centralized approach to the state’s infrastructure planning process, managing state recovery funds for infrastructure and other sources of capital, negotiating opportunities for private sector investment in infrastructure and financing approved projects. The planning processes and expertise of the New York Works Task Force will be embedded into the Bank’s functions.

The infrastructure bank may make use of funds from several sources, including federally allocated recovery funds, diverted or created revenue, proceeds from the sale of long-term debt and credit enhancements with other state entities. In addition, the bank will work with both public and private investors to raise funds to finance infrastructure developments. An advantage that the bank will have is the ability to combine several sources of funds (e.g., Federal funds with private funds) to finance projects as effectively as possible. The bank will showcase potential projects to engage the private sector in opportunities for investment in infrastructure.

New York State also will establish the Community Reconstruction Zone (CRZ) program to facilitate community-driven planning to rebuild and revitalize severely damaged communities. The state anticipates allocating approximately $25 million from this first allocation to provide planning grants to communities that suffered community-wide impacts. Later allocations will be used to implement final CRZ plans. The planning grants will facilitate the retention of outside experts as consultants to a participating community’s planning committee, as well as the completion of critical studies to determine the key vulnerabilities and needs of the community. The state will provide information and guidance to the committees to assist them in identifying and using such outside resources effectively and efficiently. It is anticipated that the CRZ program will be funded up to $500 million, an amount to be jointly determined with HUD.

Energy-related storm damage mitigation is critical for essential services facilities including, in particular, hospitals, nursing homes, and other facilities for vulnerable populations. Many essential services facilities did not have backup power systems or had ineffective backup systems that failed during the storm. As a result of this, numerous facilities had to evacuate patients which posed a greater risk to those patients than allowing them to remain in place during the storm.

To address this critical need, New York State will establish the Resilience and Retrofit Fund. The State anticipates allocating approximately $30 million from this first allocation of CDBG-DR funding to provide credit enhancement or leverage for private sector financing of energy-related mitigation projects.

Sandy affected more than 140,000 National Grid gas customers in New York City and on Long Island. In addition to the state’s efforts, National Grid has launched a $30-million Emergency Economic and Community Redevelopment Program to complement federal, state, city, insurance and other funding sources currently available to help communities and individuals rebuild. Administered through their partner HeartShare, the program targets gas customers—encouraging job retention and promoting installation of energy-efficient equipment and systems. The program has three tier levels:

  1. Funding plumbing inspections (one-time, $150 bill credit eligible to residential customers)
  2. Funding heating equipment for the most vulnerable residential customers, with grants available up to $6,000
  3. Supporting commercial redevelopment and rebuilding communities with grants available up to $250,000

“We remain steadfast in our commitment to keep New York State a great place to live, work and prosper,” says National Grid’s NY Jurisdiction President Ken Daly. “This is our home, and we’re 100 percent determined to help our customers and communities recover from the devastating effects of Sandy.”