Tag Archive: FEMA

AshBritt: The Unfinished Story

“On its face, it appears to me that the administration went out of its way to give a lucrative no-bid contract to a connected out-of-state firm at double the price.”  – Senator Barbara Buono at Sandy hearing

The Senate and Assembly Oversight Sandy hearing on Friday yielded some new information. Only AshBritt employees testified – primarily its CEO Randy Perkins. He often was so evasive that a question had to be repeated three or four times and even then a full response was not always forthcoming. One important statement from Mr. Perkins was later contradicted by FEMA. The hearing was a good beginning, but often inconclusive, and calls out for testimony from other parties.

Lack of Christie Administration’s preparation leads to a last minute scramble

Legislators justifiably criticized the Administration for not being better prepared. Following Irene and the Halloween storm, the State could have bid out a contract (or multiple contracts) which would have been in place and ready to activate when Sandy arrived. Instead the state scrambled and improvised. It grabbed an off-the-shelf AshBritt Connecticut contract on which to piggy-back.

A suspect contract drawn in darkness

CEO Perkins was evasive and vague about the timeline and activities that led to the State’s signing of the umbrella AshBritt agreement which allowed municipalities to contract debris removal at a set price without any further bidding process. The State hastily signed the agreement two days after Sandy landed, with only minimal modifications from the 2008 Connecticut version. Not much is known about discussions – or any negotiations – before the contract signing. Former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour, a partner in the BGR Group which lobbies for Ash-Britt, recommended the firm to Christie. AshBritt  has a history of extensive political contributions to elected officials. Most recently BGR Group Chair Ed Rogers held a $3,800 per-person fundraiser for Christie.

District 38 Team Advances Flood Bill for Assembly Vote

The District 38 team is turning out to be a great asset for the whole state in this warming world. They are concentrating like a laser on flooding issues and it is much appreciated.

Their latest bill finally acknowledges something I had been painfully aware of for a while.  NJ floodmaps are woefully out of date and our laws insist we use the old ones.  This new bill would acknowledge that the flood risk has changed in NJ over the years. Mostly from overdevelopment, but also from natural forces, and sometimes by human intervention, often in a misguided effort to help prevent flooding.

I have actually had a client who had to build his building as if he was in a flood plain and elevate the floor and allow flow through openings in the basement, based on the old outdated maps, when his property was not anywhere near being in a flood plain. The old state-studied maps were off by several feet. In the latest flooding that occurred everywhere, his property remained high and dry.  By law we had to act as if his property was in the flood plain.  But the maps were wrong.  Our complaints fell on deaf ears.

On the other hand, many folks are stunned to find water in their houses because they did not used to be in the flood plain. A few years ago FEMA updated their maps but did not use new data. I paid for maps on CD then and they sent me maps that were useless. They had not updated any of the actual data used to make the maps. They just updated the maps themselves and so for many many years those old maps were all we had.  

Now that FEMA has new data and are truly updating the data, we can help more property owners. Sandy helped move the process along even further.  Flood maps change and we need to keep up.  Fortunately, the web has advanced too.  We now have good quick links to new maps.  

Based on better technology, we now have maps of waterways in our state derived from infrared mapping from the air. These are incredibly accurate and show every rivulet practically.  We also have better topography maps that are exquisite in detail.  

This new bill will enable a property owner to get permits or use information based on the most up to date flood maps from FEMA if they are more recent than the old maps.  Thankfully these new maps are easier to get and use by the general public.

Some links below:

Sandy, Christie & More “Business as Usual”

I ended a Jan 14 diary, After Sandy: The State’s Contract With AshBritt Reeks of “Business as Usual,” indicating, “Only time will tell whether the arrangement was beneficial and cost effective for Belmar and the 42 other NJ municipalities that have contracted with this firm. Nonetheless, the State’s haste, execution of a no-bid contract, failure to allow competition, and use of a firm with a questionable past raise troubling questions.”

The diary documented how AshBritt’s past includes artificially driving up prices, taking advantage of municipalities, passing up local contractors, being enmeshed in law suits, contributing huge sums to the coffers of elected officials and state parties, and undergoing a congressional investigation.

In the past week more news articles have questioned the arrangement between the State and AshBritt. Sen. Barbara Buono, Assemblyman Vincent Prieto, and Senate President Steve Sweeney have raised concerns.

Although Governor Christie frequently ignores criticism, in this case he has risen to his own defense. He called recent articles on the subject “shoddy journalism,” in spite of the fact that there is plenty of documentation in the news articles and my diary.

He insists his contract with AshBritt is not a “no-bid” contract because he “piggy-backed” on a Connecticut contract. Since when does NJ rely on using existing contracts from other states and just assume that the bidding process, prices, and policies included are fair and correct for NJ? As the Star-Ledger points out, FEMA regulations, which are described in a published guidebook, say “piggyback contracting” is “non-competitive and may have an inappropriate price structure.”

On NJTV last night Christie disingenuously said “All the municipalities’ decisions [to contract with AshBritt] were voluntary.” True in theory, but… When Belmar’s Mayor Matt Doherty announced in early November his town hired AshBritt to lead cleanup efforts in his borough, he indicated, “They are the contractor chosen by the state of New Jersey … I am following Gov. Christie’s lead on this.” Indeed, Chritie left municipalities little choice: undertake this complex task on their own or hire AshBritt, the only firm authorized by the State to provide exclusive advantages including no necessity for further sub-bidding.  

After a petition: Hurricane Sandy diaster relief workers get health coverage

Do you think the first responders who came to our aid when Hurricane Sandy hit should have health protection if they get sick or injured taking care of us?

Well, they’re going to get it, thanks to some on line activism;  a Change.org petition posted by Dena Patrick of Wishadoo!, the “Craigslist of Compassion” which connects people in need with people who want to help through a Wishlist posted there. This info comes via ThinkProgress.

Patrick’s petition picked up 112,000 signatures in days. And yesterday, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) responded, reversing a longstanding policy, and finally giving “certain employees who work on intermittent schedules” – like those who came for Sandy – their permanent enrollment in a Federal Employee Health Benefits plan. It applies to thousands of disaster relief workers whose schedules – responding to crises as needed – are part-time or intermittent.

About 70% of the FEMA workforce serves on a part-time basis through the Reservist Program, and they didn’t qualify for employer-based health coverage. That’s despite the dangerous nature of what they do for us, and the long hours of physical work, in sometimes unstable and miserable conditions.

We saw so many of the people who rushed in after the World Trade Center collapse later get sick and struggle to cover their health expenses. That should never happen again. I like that people are looking out for the people who show up to help us out. And I like that OPM, an independent agency of the federal government, can be informed and persuaded by something like an online petition. It’s good news.  

Hurricane Sandy Aftermath Imagery

Please share this information with folks who are wondering what happened to their towns and who may still be unable to get in yet and assess the damage. Also share it with elected officials you may know who may not be aware of the incredible amount of data that has been collected to help them assess, recover, and rebuild.

NJ had just this year added a lot of GIS data to its incredible storehouse of information thanks to forward thinking government officials who invested in it.  This past week, detailed aerial images were taken immediately after Hurricane Sandy hit.  For those families displaced by the storm, they can view areas that may be not easily accessed or safe to enter yet. Here is the FEMA map showing aerial imagery Post-Sandy for residents who would like to view damage near their homes.  

http://fema.apps.esri.com/chec…

To see the imagery, input the area of interest.  The green dots are aerial shots.  Click on them and an aerial view shot should open. Click on the image to enlarge it.

NOAA has aerial views of the damage as well. Just zoom in – those long dark strips are actually aerial images of the post Sandy damage.  

http://storms.ngs.noaa.gov/sto…

The next map shows the extent of the Storm surge where it flooded the Coastline.  

http://fema.maps.arcgis.com/ho…

You need to click a few things to view the surge.  On the upper left hand side under the word “Details” are 3 smaller icons. The one in the middle when you mouse over it says Show Contents of Map. Click it and it will allow you to add or delete layers on the map.  The Surge extent layer will show you how far inland the water came.  The imagery layer will show you green dots – each of which – when you click on it will reveal a high detail aerial image of the damage.

Years ago, the State of NJ was nicknamed “the Online State” during the Christie Todd Whitman Administration because the State Government  wanted to make information more accessible to the public.  Thankfully that legacy is helping us right now in real time after Hurricane Sandy.  It is helping us get a real handle on the task ahead.

Here is a comprehensive list of the information available regarding maps and imagery for Hurricane Sandy:

http://njgin.state.nj.us/oit/g…

In ordinary times, the NJDEP NJ Geoweb page has great maps you can add or remove layers from to print out useful maps. This information is free and helpful to residents, elected officials, engineers and planners who want to know more about NJ.  You can find that here (best browser to use- Internet Explorer):  http://www.nj.gov/dep/gis/geow…

Please share this information with folks who may need to use it.  It is also amazing to look at in it’s own right. Hurricane Sandy was a historic, terrifying, and powerful storm.  Fortunately our previous investment in virtual technology and GIS data may just help us rebuild New Jersey’s concrete infrastructure sooner in a more robust and sustainable way.

Our collective heartbreak, well, that will take a lot more time to heal.

Thank You, Governor Christie

Dear Governor Christie,

Thank you for your efforts in providing relief and comfort to the citizens of New Jersey in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. I’m glad you did your job. You are receiving a lot of well-deserved praise from the press on your performance. After all, the bar was set pretty low by your patron, George W Bush in Katrina, and by yourself and your Lieutenant Governor when you were both out of the state during a major snowstorm here – leaving the relief efforts to the Senate President. So while your response to Sandy is appreciated, it is what we would expect from any governor.

It was comforting and reassuring to New Jerseyans to see you walk hand in hand with President Obama to provide solace to those touched by this tragedy. This was a welcome change from your disdain for teachers, union workers, and women’s health. Perhaps this is because Hurricane Sandy knew no class distinction. On Long Beach Island, she destroyed multimillion dollar homes in Harvey Cedars as well as trailer homes in Holgate. I only wish you had the same equality of compassion in times other than those imposed upon us by Mother Nature.

You and the President showed how governing used to be, and how it should be. You toned down your rhetoric (although Mayor Langford might disagree) and put the people before politics. You took the risk of angering your base by realizing and embracing the fact that there is a role for big government – whether it is in FEMA and the military in providing the type of assistance that cash-strapped states can’t, or in the Army Corps of Engineers repairing the beaches.

There’s a saying that “all politics is local” and whether your decision to cooperate with the President was motivated by politics or by compassion doesn’t matter. You are handling this crisis well, and we all thank you for that. Hopefully, this will be a learning moment for you and that you realize that whether or not we voted for you, you are the governor of all New Jerseyans. You are my governor. I hope the lesson of Sandy is carried forward and that you continue in the spirit of cooperation to work with those who support clean air and water, those who advocate for women’s health, those who promote marriage as a way any two adults can commit to each other, and those who rely on the public infrastructure. After all, you work for us, not the Koch Brothers and Karl Rove.

With appreciation,

Deciminyan

Sandy Shows Why We Need Federal Government

I think Governor Chris Christie has done a wonderful job of wrangling the people of New Jersey prior to Hurricane Sandy, and of comforting them after.  I am quite impressed with his tenor, and his ability to use his aggression to give solace to people.  That’s no mean feat.

It’s also impressive that Governor Christie, who has spent the past 10 months traveling everywhere he’s asked to promote Mitt Romney is so effusive in his praise of President Barack Obama just days before the election. The Romney folks must be grinding their teeth down to the roots.

“I cannot thank the president enough for his concern,” said Christie, at a joint press conference. “He’s called me 6 times, it’s a great working relationship.” …

“He’s been responsive, aggressive…he’s put his heart and soul in making sure that the people of New Jersey bounce back stronger than ever before.”

As reluctant as I am to politicize this event, I do want to make one comment about this: When things go horribly wrong, small government Republican governors always call on the federal government to help.  They understand in the middle of a disaster that it is not time to worry about deficits, to cling to political theory of republics vs. democracies.  It is time to buckle up the boots and get to work.

It shows, to my mind, a lack of imagination.  Democrats, to a large extent, know that Hurricane Sandys and Katrinas and Floyds happen, and happen quote often.  We believe that it is best to be prepared for them, to lay up the supplies and train the personnel, and if nothing bad happens then you thank whatever powers you believe in and get ready for the next one.

Republicans wait until the spit hits the fan to worry about how to respond.  This is true of natural disasters, entitlement plans, climate change and the rest.  It is only in crisis that they want to act, seemingly because it pains them to spend money for an event that might not happen.  It’s penny wise and pound foolish.

Further evidence is Romney’s running away from his comments about defunding FEMA and sending disaster relief to the states.  For almost three days he pretended no to hear reporters asking him about the comments, and then when the heat got too hot released a single paragraph statement that he would “fully fund” FEMA as President.

This is one of the main differences between the parties that the Naders of the world don’t get.  But people who have been through a disaster do.

The one where $60 billion in waste and fraud is ok by Republicans

Last week, I wrote a post about how House Republicans like Scott Garrett and Eric Cantor were using this past week’s disasters (earthquake, Hurricane Irene) and used them as a sick opportunity to take cheap shots at those who were the most in need and vulnerable.

Of course, I’m referring to the self righteous calls for more cuts to desperately needed programs to help those who aren’t super rich in order to pay for cleanup of the massive and widespread damage.

No time for politics

Keith Kazmark is running for mayor in Woodland Park. – promoted by Rosi

Unless you’ve been in hibernation the last week, everyone has seen the magnitude of the damage caused by Hurricane Irene.  The flooding has been historical.  People are displaced, losing their belongings and dealing with the realization of a prolonged rebuilding process.  In my hometown of Woodland Park it has been especially bad, as we sit right inside the Passaic River Basin.  

For the last week, I’ve been working in my role as a member of the Woodland Park Office of Emergency Management to help my neighbors in any way I can. Piling sand bags, assisting our first responders to evacuate people from dangerous areas and helping residents deal with the malaise of PSE&G and power outages.  It hasn’t been an easy process, but we are coming together as a community to get through this disaster.  

But when I hear statements injecting politics into this disaster like we saw from House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, I can’t contain my frustration.  

Cantor’s reluctance to fund the Federal Office of Emergency Management is beyond comprehension.