Seaside Park residents who were unable to participate on Monday when the borough allowed residents to drive in to retrieve possessions will have their opportunity to do so starting today.
Notified by the borough's reverse 911 system, residents were told they will be bused into the borough in shifts beginning this morning, based on where in town they live.
That angered many of the more than 300 residents who packed the Borough Council meeting held in the Toms River Municipal Building on Thursday night, a meeting that ran for nearly four hours as residents aired their frustrations and concerns over the limited access.
Under the plan announced by the borough late Thursday, which Police Chief Francis Larkin said is Phase 1 of re-entry to the island, Seaside Park residents, like those other towns, will be limited in how much time they have in the residence and how much they can bring out.
The borough's website notes residents will be limited to what they can carry on their laps, but at the meeting Larkin said the borough is trying to obtain permission to use a box truck, similar to the way Seaside Heights is doing to help residents remove possessions. Entry will be limited to two people per residence, one of whom must be the resident or homeowner.
The buses will depart from and return to the parking lot at Shelter Cove, on Bay Avenue about a mile east of Fischer Boulevard. Registration begins at 9 a.m., though at the meeting Larkin said borough personnel will be on hand beginning at 8 a.m. The first bus is to depart by 10 a.m., Larkin said. Residents going at 10 a.m. will have until noon, at which time they will have to board the buses and return so a second set of residents can access the island. The second buses depart Shelter Cove at noon and return to the borough at 2 p.m.
The access schedule is as follows:
- Today: Homes located J Street south to 14thAvenue
- Saturday: Homes located north of J Street and west of Rt. 35
- Sunday: Homes located north of J Street and east of Rt. 35
The Seaside Park website notes that some homes have been deemed unsafe for entry. Residents of those homes will be only be allowed a visual inspection of their homes.
The entire plan had to be approved by Gov. Chris Christie's office, Larkin said. And it is Christie's office that reminded the borough that the state of emergency and the evacuation orders -- which say no one but emergency personnel can be on the barrier island -- are still in force, Larkin said.
Those details infuriated residents, many of whom were unable to go to their homes during Monday's trip to the borough.
"This is ridiculous," said Richard DiPietro, who said he was involved in the efforts to clean up in New York City after 9-11. "They're taking this the wrong direction."
"They're going to supervise me going into my house?" Al McDuffie said. "And then they're going to bus me back?"
"By doing this, I hope the governor knows that next time, we won't leave," said Gertrude Martinique. "If government would just get out of my way and let me do what I need to do, I could start moving forward."
"What we have here is a bureaucracy justifying their existence," said Mike Juliano of L Street. "As far as I'm concerned we should be taking care of ourselves."
Tempers flared frequently during the early part of the meeting, forcing Mayor Robert Matthies to several times bang the gavel to get people to quiet down.
"I understand your frustration," Matthies said. "We're frustrated too. We, too, are displaced."
Residents expressed concerns that the two hours allotted are inadequate to turn off the water and drain pipes. Borough engineer Felipe Contreras said the town is already taking steps to help with that issue, in shutting off water curbside to homes and removing water meters, allowing much of the water to drain from the homes' pipes.
That doesn't address water in radiant heating systems or in toilets or water heaters, several residents said.
But the primary thing residents asked, time and again, was why the process the borough and Berkeley Township had used on Monday -- issuing permits that allowed residents to take their own cars and remove as much as possible -- was no longer permissible, and when they would be able to return to their homes for good.
"Many of us are at the point of having to make some decisions about where we are going to live," said Ann Bryant of K Street. "We need to know when we will be able to get home."
Matthies said the two biggest factors in a return to the island were when JCP&L and New Jersey Natural Gas complete the repairs they need to do. He said neither utility company will give any timeline for that process, however.
"When we ask them, they say they're still assessing the damage," Matthies said.
Larkin acknowledged that the streets in Seaside Park are in good shape, and that the borough suffered far less damage than other towns. But the governor's office was dictating the rules and restrictions right now, he said.
"If it was up to the mayor, council and police department, we would put you on our backs and run you across the bridge," one Seaside Park detective said.
"I'm just as frustrated as everybody else," Larkin said, "but this is all they're giving me."