Monday, March 18, 2013 4:49 pm
NJ hires unemployed to fix Sandy damage in parks
By KATIE ZEZIMAAssociated Press
New Jersey has already hired about 700 unemployed residents statewide thanks to a $15.6 million federal grant and plans to hire 300 more - all in a state where the unemployment rate is 9.5 percent, one of the highest in the nation.
"It feels so good to get these people back to work," Labor Commissioner Hal Wirths said.
The program dispatches workers to state and county parks, trails and beaches throughout the state that have sustained substantial storm damage.
Wirths announced the program at Liberty State Park, in the shadow of the Statue of Liberty and Manhattan skyline. The park on the banks of the Hudson River sustained substantial damage during Sandy after it was inundated by a 15-foot storm surge during the Oct. 29 storm.
Debris reached chest-high in the park after Sandy, its waterfront walkway was badly damaged and its visitor's center remains still closed because electricity has not been fully restored.
Crews have so far hauled 1,000 pounds of debris out of the park and restored 75 percent of the waterfront walkway and are working to fix the rest before the weather warms.
Thirty five New Jersey parks received some type of damage during the storm and are all fully or partially open. Wirths said the state wants the parks to be fully open by Memorial Day.
While crews are working on dunes and beaches along the hard-hit coast, they're also busy in the interior sections of the state.
Although those areas received far less property damage, many trees were felled. About 1,100 miles of trails received some sort of damage and crews have cleared about 80 percent of them.
"As spring comes, we'll be bringing more people in," Wirths said.
Wirths said hiring for the positions started about two months ago and thousands have applied.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced in November that a federal grant would put 5,000 unemployed New Yorkers to work cleaning up Sandy damage.
Wirths and other state officials stood in a cold, blustery park ahead of a storm, and said regardless of the conditions many are glad to be back at work.
"On a day like today, as cold as it is out, they're just grateful to be working," Wirths said.