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Brick to Participate in Demolition, Debris Program

Debate lingered over whether to place liens on storm victims' homes

A resolution unanimously passed by the Brick Township council Tuesday night will allow the township to hire contractors to go onto private property in order to demolish homes and clear debris from Superstorm Sandy.

The township will participate in FEMA's Private Property Debris Removal, or PPDR, program without placing liens on residents' properties – the main crux of a debate on the issue that carried on for hours at a council meeting this week.

The power of the resolution is expected to be used to clear debris produced by blocks of burnt, destroyed homes in the Camp Osborn neighborhood. It can also be used anywhere else in town where homes need to be demolished.

The township's participation in the program was the subject of an hours-long discussion at the Feb. 5 township council meeting, where officials and members of the public debated whether liens should be placed on storm victims' homes before the demolition takes place.

Under the PPDR program's regulations, the township has two options.

The first option involves demolishing a home and clearing debris, then obtaining the standard FEMA reimbursement of 75 percent of the cost of the project, followed by collecting the remaining 25 percent from the homeowner's insurance company.

A second option involves placing a lien on the resident's property for 100 percent of the project costs, performing the work, but returning the amount reimbursed by FEMA due to the fact that the lien had been placed. In essence, the township would have performed the work and placed the lien, and it would be up to the property owner to pay the lien back.

The first option, some feared, would leave the township open to footing 25 percent of a demolition bill if a homeowner did not have home insurance, but the latter option also had its drawbacks, including a hardship for residents without the money to tear down a destroyed home and the impact to the community that could be caused by uninhabitable homes remaining standing. Additionally, if liens were not settled for decades – what some say is a strong possibility since homes sometimes remain in families for years – the township would have to wait a virtual eternity to collect any money back from its expenditure.

There is no option in the PPDR program, Township Attorney Jean Cipriani said, to simply place a lien on a home for the 25 percent portion, or the portion that is not covered by a resident's insurance company.

In all cases, a resident's participation in the PPDR program is subject to an extensive review by township officials and FEMA, including an on-site visit by a FEMA employee.

The township council first placed a resolution on its meeting agenda that would implement the program without liens, however at the last minute, a decision was made in the council's Business and Finance Committee to change the terms and place liens on all properties that participate.

Mayor Stephen C. Acropolis was the first person to speak out against placing liens, strongly objecting to going "the lien route."

"I am absolutely astounded," he said. "We can get the money from FEMA. And if we don't have the lien, we can keep that [money]. I think we should do what's best for the entire town. I can tell you that everybody will be affected by the hurricane when it comes to home values."

"I'm not in favor of putting a lien on anybody's property," said Councilman Joseph Sangiovanni, who reminded council members that a lien would go on a resident's credit report until it was fully paid.

Acropolis said he is still hopeful that Gov. Chris Christie's request for FEMA reimbursements to be raised to 90 percent will be granted by the federal government, further reducing the township's potential financial exposure.

Cipriani said the program is designed to help residents who may not have enough insurance coverage to tear down a home, and to help the town as a whole recover as a result.

"We really did try various scenarios where we could try to record [a lien for] the municipal portion only, and that simply is not possible," she said.

Most residents who spoke at the meeting supported a no-lien plan, but some disagreed.

"Hey, I live on the water," said resident Vic Fanelli. "But because someone else didn't have home insurance or flood insurance, or whatever they were supposed to have, I have to pay for it? I have to pay for my own insurance and subsidize someone else? This is not going to be an easy one."

But resident Nan Coll disagreed.

"We need to help the people who were so severely damaged," she said. "We're lucky we didn't have more loss of life, but people were destroyed by this. If my taxes go up a little because of this, so be it."

In the end the council unanimously passed the no-lien option following Acropolis' objection.

A day after the meeting, Acropolis said the township is developing a list of residents who may want to participate. Residents looking to demolish their homes should come to the township as they normally would to obtain permits, and they will be given more information on the PPDR program.

Daniel Nee February 08, 2013 at 10:19 PM
The mayor told me yesterday he would prefer to solicit bids.
Don Smith February 09, 2013 at 03:45 AM
First I have asked the author here why he still calls this a gas fire. He has not read the eye witness reports from the fire department. It was an electrical fire cause by poorly maintained transformers located over the roof tops. Why was JCP&L Company allowed to place them over homes? Is that allowed in code? As far as gas goes as a cause you would never get a concentration of gas above the lower explosive limit in 60 MPH winds. Second it was 120 homes that burned in this fire including those on Lynnhurst Drive on full sized lots and then the fire jumped the state highway in two places. Now on the flood insurance issue, We had a home there for 74 years. It was small reflecting what we could put a risk near the ocean. It is unthinkable to borrow money for a beach house. We never had a mortgage on anything at the beach and that is why small is the key. Build it on pilings, above the FEMA guide and build what you can afford to risk and then you can relax about the flood insurance. That is good judgement.
Betty Ann February 19, 2013 at 12:17 PM
Don, the final ending to the fire report indicates "unknown". Dan has read the fire report. You keep focusing on JCP&L since the storm. There is no way at this time, it can be proved. Even the eye wittness, whom we know, could not determine exactly where up near the dunes the fire started, according to his report to the Fire insepectors. When he made that call @ 7:22pm on 10/29, he was very clear in his descriptions, and I guarantee that everyone in the room was silent, and listening to him. After a few minutes, he couldn't even see which homes were already on fire, because the smoke was so thick and dense. Let's all help each other out, instead of pointing fingers. It is just a darn shame that some townspeople did not have flood insurance, not to even say they didn't even have fire or liability insurance either. No one ever expected this to happen in our lifetimes.
William Hammski March 22, 2013 at 03:32 PM
Hey Don, PUT A SOCK IN IT RE: JCP&L. First of all, Transformers are on poles and NEVER over houses. Second - There is no such thing as a "poorly maintained transformer". Transformers either work or don't. Finally - Ruptured gas lines fed the fire no matter what the wind speed was. Poorly built homes shifted causing the gas lines to rupture and that is the HOMEOWNERS FAULT. End of Story! !
KC March 26, 2013 at 03:15 AM
These leaders are not in favour of a lien, but what about homeowners that must live near mold infested,debris ridden properties, not even touched since Sandy, whose owners are in-absentia, living out of state? Homeownership comes with responsibilities as well as rights.

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