Air Force to pay back agencies, municipalities for forest fire costs

Air Force to pay back agencies, municipalities for forest fire costs

10 January 2008

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Ocean County government agencies and local municipalities will get more than $320,000 from the Air Force as reimbursement for costs during the May 15 and 16 forest fire emergency in the county’s southern communities, according to a tally released Wednesday by the Sheriff’s Department.

In a statement, Sheriff William L. Polhemus said his department — along with the county road, transportation and vehicle services departments — would get $68,193 from the military.

The fire was ignited by a flare ejected from a New Jersey Air National Guard F-16 fighter during a low-level pass, and the Air Force promised full reimbursement for documented public- and private-sector costs associated with the 17,000-acre blaze.

Among 23 municipalities whose emergency responders served during the fire, $250,104 in reimbursements will be distributed. That doesn’t include Barnegat, which incurred some of the highest costs because of widespread evacuations and firefighting in residential neighborhoods, and has submitted its own claims to the Air Force.

The county’s Transportation Department was reimbursed for its role in the evacuation, when county buses were used to move residents who didn’t have their own vehicles.

Of the towns whose claims were submitted in the countywide tally, Stafford has the highest reimbursement at $87,267, followed by Little Egg Harbor at $40,922, according to the sheriff’s totals.

The reimbursements cover costs such as vehicle fuel, police overtime and the expense of temporary shelter for residents at local schools. Five homes were lost to the blaze, and an estimated 6,000 residents were displaced during the evacuations.

Late last year, Air Force officials estimated they had paid nearly $2 million in private property claims and related losses. The biggest claim was filed for $196.8 million by Phoenix Pinelands Corp., operators of a sand and gravel mine near the Pinelands village of Warren Grove.

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