Last week, officials announced that unrestricted access to barrier island neighborhoods will resume on Jan. 7, with one exception — Ortley Beach.
The section of Toms River was badly battered by Sandy; roads and utilities in the area remain unrepaired. Township officials expect to have a better idea of when residents can repopulate the area following a meeting with utility companies scheduled for Jan. 4.
William Kuzbyt, a 9th Avenue resident, told the Township Council this week that he is one of the fortunate few on his street whose house is habitable. He wants to return home.
"We're not getting any definitive information as to what's going on with the utilities," he said. "We're paying mortgages, we're paying taxes. So what are we supposed to do?"
Before Toms River can allow repopulation of that barrier island community, officials must certify with the county and governor's office that utilities are available, said township Business Administrator Paul Shives.
Holiday Road resident Pete Suriani wanted to know if the township had developed "a concrete plan" to get residents back to their homes.
"What's the timeframe?," he said. "It's now eight weeks."
"Next week we hope to have a schedule and say, 'here's what we're doing,'" Shives said. That information — what Shives called the "definitive dates" — would then be posted to the township website.
Toms River Mayor Thomas Kelaher said last week that Ortley is not included in the repopulation plan because some streets are still non-existent or covered with sand, and utilities — including natural gas meters and water mains — are still not repaired in some areas of the neighborhood.
Shives said that the township has been working "hand-in-hand" with JCP&L to set up meters in the north beaches before moving south.
"The idea is once that site is complete we're going to move on to Ortley," he said.
Sewers in the area are functioning on generator power — which is acceptable, according to Shives — but potable water quality remains in question. Utility poles in the area were toppled and must be replaced through a JCP&L reconstruction plan. The township is also working on plans to rebuild roads washed away in the storm, which will be completed once underground utility work is done.
So far, Shives said that JCP&L has been "very good" working with township and officials are in regular contact with gas, water and sewage utilities.
Suriani requested that once officials meet with utility representatives, extra help — like that seen in the immediate aftermath of Sandy — is brought in to assist getting Ortley reopened as quickly as possible.
"We need that kind of expedited support and urgency," he said.