TRENTON, N.J. — Gov. Chris Christie on Wednesday defended his decision to use federal Superstorm Sandy recovery money to help rebuild businesses burned by a devastating boardwalk fire last week.
Christie said boardwalk-area businesses in Seaside Park and Seaside Heights are entitled to the money because Sandy was cited as a contributing cause of the fire. He said businesses destroyed or damaged by the fire but unaffected when the mega-storm hit last October would be eligible for aid. However, he said, no money intended for residents would be used to aid business owners.
"The part of this that absolutely cannot be disputed is that the intent of the business fund, the federal government said, was to restore business in these communities," Christie said at a news conference after signing an economic stimulus bill. "The fact is this was contributed to by Sandy and is now going to diminish the business activity in Seaside Park and Seaside Heights."
Investigators blamed Sandy for damaging electrical wiring that touched off the four-block fire. Christie said local inspectors are responsible for making sure electrical systems are safe after last fall's storm.
The fire began accidentally in aged wiring that had been compromised by saltwater and sand during the Oct. 29 storm, federal and county investigators said Tuesday. The wind-whipped blaze destroyed more than 50 businesses in the two towns.
The wires were installed decades ago underneath the boardwalk and were inaccessible to inspectors, Christie said.
Jersey Central Power & Light Co. said Wednesday it didn't know to whom the wiring belonged.
The utility's vice president of operations, Anthony Hurley, said its crews conducted a follow-up investigation, including visits to the site with emergency personnel, and determined the wiring wasn't the utility's. He said the utility doesn't have any infrastructure in the area.
The governor pledged $15 million to help rebuild burned businesses. The recovery money also will pay for debris removal.
Christie, a Republican, said the state wasn't planning to step in to inspect other properties that may have been compromised by the storm. However, he said, state inspectors would be made available to any town that requested help.