A year after Hurricane Sandy devastated the New Jersey coastline, many communities are rebuilding and recovering with the help of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The agency, which helps individuals, local governments, and some non-profits, has poured money, planning, and work into many affected communities—but one New Jersey location has been left without funding.
During the storm, Ocean Grove lost its pier and its boardwalk, while many buildings along the shore were also damaged. However, when the unincorporated community sought FEMA funding, it was turned down. Now, some believe that Ocean Grove is being punished for its religious leanings, while others believe that it is simply being treated fairly under the law.
FEMA Funding and Non-Profit Organizations
FEMA denied Ocean Grove’s appeal for funding after Hurricane Sandy because it believes the damaged boardwalk is a recreational, non-public space maintained by a non-profit organization, the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association. Under FEMA regulations, only certain non-profit organizations can receive funding, such as schools, water and sewage companies, fire departments, ambulance companies, emergency services, hospitals, rehabilitation facilities, long-term care facilities, home care services, museums, zoos, communities centers, homeless shelters, libraries, low-income housing, and drug rehabilitation programs.
Past FEMA Funding of Ocean Grove
Some Ocean Grove residents believe that the community and boardwalk should receive funding because it has been funded in the past. In 1992, a nor’easter damaged the boardwalk and FEMA granted funding to have the area repaired. However, in 2011, Hurricane Irene damaged the fishing club in Ocean Grove and FEMA funding was not granted in that instance.
Ocean Grove Civil Rights Controversy
Those who believe that Ocean Grove does deserve FEMA funding think that the rejection by the government agency may be tied to a 2007 controversy in which a lesbian couple wished to be married in the Ocean Grove Pavilion. The Camp Meeting Association believed that the pavilion was a religious structure and that they had the right to deny a same-sex marriage from taking place there. The couple argued that since the pavilion and boardwalk accepted government funds and was designated for public use, they were being discriminated against.
Public Land or Religious Non-Profit?
At the heart of this issue are two questions: Does Ocean Grove want its boardwalk to be a public area and receive government support and control? Or does Ocean Grove wish to be a private, religious non-profit that has control over who uses the boardwalk and pavilion? One option may allow for future FEMA funds, but the other gives greater freedom.