Kane In Your Corner: Sandy victim still struggling with recovery

Olivia DeCellio is struggling with the state over her RREM grants.

Olivia DeCellio is struggling with the state over her RREM grants. (10/30/15)

HIGHLANDS - Three years after Superstorm Sandy, some homeowners are still no closer to rebuilding their lives – and grant programs designed to help them can sometimes stand in their way.

Olivia DeCellio's former home in Highlands is just a memory. She spent three years navigating through the state's RREM grant program. Kane In Your Corner first visited DeCellio in her home two years ago. The damage was so severe that it had been condemned, yet the state somehow turned down her grant application. Her grant money has since been approved, but she's run into another problem.

"I finally got this far and I can't move forward." says DeCellio. She is in Pathway C, in which the state hires the contractor; in this case, J.W. Turner. Both Turner and the RREM program keep submitting plans the Borough of Highlands says it cannot approve. "It's totally disrupting my life," says DeCellio. "There's not a day that I don't go without being depressed or stressed or crying or something."

The plans call for the house to be built on wood pilings. The problem is, the pilings would have to be driven into the ground just 3 feet from neighboring homes.

"If you put piles in, that's going to shake the foundation under my house," says DeCellio’s neighbor, John Caruso. "I just don't want her to damage my house. That's it."

The borough agrees the wood pilings are likely to cause damage. Borough Administrator Tim Hill says, "The homeowner and contractor are well aware of what's necessary to move the project forward in terms of protecting the neighboring homes."

But the RREM Program and J.W. Turner say concrete is just too expensive. Instead, the borough says J.W. Turner promised to devise a plan to protect neighbors, but never delivered. The plan only promised to monitor the vibrations caused by installing the wood pilings.

Kane In Your Corner reached out to J.W. Turner, but the company did not return repeated phone calls. As for DeCellio, she just wants work to start so that she can go home. “We really need to get these pilings in the middle or end of November the latest," says DeCellio. "Otherwise, we're going to have to go through the whole winter."

A spokesperson for the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs says that while concrete is usually more expensive than wood, Pathway C homeowners can now switch to Pathway B at any time.

The spokesperson says homeowners can then "shop around for contractors, including modular home contractors, who can build the actual house more cheaply, allowing the homeowner to stay within their project's budget."

And although she thinks it is still unlikely she'll be back home before next year, that's what DeCellio plans to do.

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