Sandy aid headed for businesses not directly hit by Sandy

Fire officials arrange a hose onto a pick-up truck as smoke rises from the Funtown Pier Friday, Sept. 13, 2013, at Seaside Park, N.J., the morning after a fire burned a large portion of the boardwalk. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Updated at 6:20 pm

TRENTON — Gov. Christie confirmed Wednesday that the Seaside businesses that burned in last week’s boardwalk fire will be eligible for federal Sandy relief funds — even if they weren’t damaged during Sandy.

“There’s no question, there can’t be any logical question, that the flood and the sand that came in under the boardwalk” to a building’s electric wires led to the fire in Seaside Heights and Seaside Park, Christie said.

The Ocean County prosecutor said Tuesday that while Sandy may have compromised the aging electric set-up under the boardwalk, officials “will never know” for if the Oct. 29 storm actually caused the fire more than 10 months later.

But Christie was confident at a Statehouse news conference Wednesday that the two events were connected: “There’s no doubt in my mind about it.”

And therefore, he said, businesses unharmed during Sandy but affected by the fire should be eligible for a piece of $15 million in federal storm relief funds. The money was formally reallocated Wednesday by the state Economic Development Agency.

Critics from both the left and the right argued in an Inquirer article Tuesday that federal money shouldn’t be used to address an unrelated tragedy, and that businesses shouldn’t get checks — or second checks, in some cases — while other Sandy victims have yet to see monetary relief.

But Christie argued that the fire and the storm cannot be separated.

“The fact is that this [fire] was contributed to by Sandy, and is now going to diminish the business activity in Seaside Park and Seaside Heights,” he said.

Therefore, it is appropriate to use money already earmarked to help businesses, Christie said, noting that the Obama administration has signed off on the plan. None of the funds come from programs set aside to help residents displaced by the storm, and private insurance will be exhausted before federal money is used.

“I think it’s consistent with the goal of the [federal aid package] legislation to restore the Jersey Shore,” Christie said.

The money will come from a $100 million Sandy loan program and a $260 million grant program, both part of about $2 billion for New Jersey that Congress approved earlier this year. Before the aid package passed, Christie had berated Republican leaders who were holding up the bill over concerns about waste.

Up to this point the administration had sent mixed signals about eligibility. A spokeswoman from the Department of Community Affairs contradicted Christie on Tuesday by saying that only businesses affected by both the fire and Sandy would get additional aid.