LINCROFT, N.J. -- When Superstorm Sandy hit New Jersey in October 2012, the damage it wreaked created the need for thousands of necessary projects ranging from debris removal to bridge reconstruction. Sixteen months later, New Jersey’s progress in managing the projects stemming from the impact of the storm has exceeded expectations.
Doug Westermann, Public Assistance Branch Chief at the FEMA New Jersey Sandy Recovery Field Office, says that New Jersey is ahead of schedule on closing out projects on a disaster of this magnitude. New Jersey is planning the final group of projects and working with the state Office of Emergency Management to start closing completed projects.
“This has really only been made possible by the efforts put forth with the State OEM and our Sandy Recovery Office to move forward and not delay the process,” Westermann said.
The closeout process begins when a project is funded and completed. The applicant must certify to the State that the work is finished and all of the allocated money was spent. Small projects are often bundled together under one applicant and can be closed as a group when they are all complete. Large projects must be closed individually. The Final Inspection Report (FIR), which consists of reconciliation of costs for the work performed in dealing with large projects, is initiated. Supporting documents are audited and added to the report, and amendments may be written after overages and/or shortfalls are reconciled. After the report is reviewed by the applicant and grantee, it is then entered into the Emergency Management Mission Integrated Environment (EMMIE) grant tracking program. After that process, the project will be closed, if requested by the grantee.
The Public Assistance FAQ at www.fema.gov defines a large project as any incident with damage costs greater than $68,500. Of the estimated 5,103 Public Assistance projects in the system in New Jersey, 1,534 are considered large projects.
Through the Public Assistance program, FEMA grants state governments the funds to reimburse municipalities, county governments and eligible private nonprofit agencies for the repair or replacement of damaged roads and bridges, water-control facilities, public buildings and their contents, publicly owned utilities, and parks and recreation areas. It also includes funds for emergency services and eligible debris-removal costs related to the disaster. FEMA reimbursed these applicants 90 percent of the eligible cost.
Nearly $1.1 billion in Public Assistance grants have been obligated in New Jersey since Sandy struck. Emergency projects, including debris removal and emergency protective measures, have accounted for $729.25 million, while permanent repairs to roads, bridges, water control facilities, utilities and buildings, have cost $359.5 million.
Westermann said FEMA has received 63 projects from the State that are ready to be closed.
Many of the completed projects were short-term emergency projects in which the money was allocated and governmental issues were addressed. Westermann says that Congress mandated several critical changes that have affected how much time applicants have to spend allocated funds, placing greater emphasis on getting the money to them. The Applicants’ Handbook at www.fema.gov/applicant-handbook states that applicants have six months to complete emergency projects and 18 months for permanent projects.
“In order to keep money flowing to the applicants, it is critical to work on closing things out so the state can release the funds that FEMA had obligated during the project development phase,” he said.
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