By Tim Jimenez
BRIGANTINE, NJ (CBS) — It has been a year-and-a-half since Sandy ravaged parts of the Jersey shore and many communities are still trying to pick up the pieces.
The long-term recovery efforts continue as towns approach the second summer after the superstorm.
In the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, a number of Long Term Recovery Groups (LTRG) formed
in various communities.
“We actually started while we were still distributing supplies out of the community center for affected homeowners and residents here on the island,” explained Michael Feeley, one of the lead organizers of Brigantine’s LTRG BrigStrong.
The group was jump started by Rev. John Scotland of the Brigantine Community Presbyterian
Church in an effort to organize recovery and rebuilding efforts throughout the island.
“(BrigStrong) was one of the first groups to apply for Robin Hood Foundation money. In
fact we’ve distributed over a half a million dollars in support to the local community,” Feeley said.
One of BrigStrong’s key elements is providing help for homeowners who are still looking to rebuild.
They receive assistance from various non-profits including the faith-based Fuller Center for Housing.
“This house had about a foot-and-a-half of water in it,” explained Neil Brown, the local
executive director of Fuller Center, in front of one of the properties they are rebuilding. It is a one floor house owned by an elderly couple who have been living in a Somers Point apartment since the storm. A construction dumpster, filled with debris, offer
a reminder of the work that has been done and a look inside offers an idea of how much more needs to be accomplished.
“So, the whole thing was completely gutted inside. The house is going to have to be lifted
five feet. New foundation is going to be put in – all new insulation, drywall, electric, heat,” Brown said.
A lot of Fuller Center’s work relies on the helping hands of volunteers, which provides
a cost-effective way for qualifying homeowners to bridge the gap between the money they get through insurance or grants, and the actual cost to fix their homes.
“We had (volunteers) from California, Georgia, Connecticut – all over the place. And they come and they’re happy and they do whatever we ask them,” Brown said. Currently, Fuller Center is simultaneously working on eight separate properties and have 20 more projects in the pipeline according to Brown, who is hoping for a boost in volunteers in the summer.
Even with all of the construction taking place, the storm’s damage goes beyond the physical destruction according to BrigStrong Co-Chair Tom Milhous.
“Fixing things is one thing but the emotional fix is much more difficult,” he said in front of another house in Brigantine being rebuilt by Brown and the Fuller Center volunteers.
“We resheathed the house because the sheathing wasn’t great on it. We got all new decks that we’ve added to it because of it being raised so high. The homeowner opted to take it up an extra two feet,” Brown explained of the work needed for the property. However, the homeowners, a retired husband and still working wife, had their stability blown away with the winds of the storm. Right now, the couple is renting a home on the island but shortly, and for yet another time, they will have to find another place to stay.
“That’s part of the problem we’re running into now with a lot of the homeowners,” Brown
said. “They’ve been staying in the houses which are turning into summer rentals. Their rents are going from $1,000-$2,000 a month to $2,000 a week.”
“From the beginning I saw this as a five-year-project,” said Wendy Frisby, the construction
chair of Atlantic County Revive, the county’s LTRG which is still accepting fresh requests 18 months after the storm hit.
“We are still having people come to case management who left their house and never returned.
That house is full of mold, has never been touched,” she explained.
With a lot of work yet to go, what does the shore look like to her in five years?
“We may not have 100 percent of the people back because people do walk, they do decide ‘that’s enough,’ but I think we’re going to have a good percentage of the people back into
their own homes,” she said.