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Hurricane Sandy support stalled in 13th Congress

Several months after Hurricane Sandy battered the northeast, parts of Massachusetts are still struggling to recover from extensive damage left in the wake of the super storm, and Congress has not offered much help.

The 113th Congress brought a bill, known as the Hurricane Sandy Relief Act, to the floor on January 9 that would allocate about $50 billion for relief efforts. But on Monday night, legislators rejected key provisions that would help Massachusetts fisheries.

U.S Representative Ed Markey of the fifth district of Massachusetts  — and possible Senate candidate  — proposed the amendment that included $150 million for fisheries that was later denied.

Rep. John Tierney of the sixth congressional district and Rep. Bill Keating of the ninth congressional district offered similar amendments to Markey’s, neither of which were included in the bill.

Tierney said aid to fishing communities is essential, and that House republican efforts to deny the aid was unacceptable.

“Despite the Department of Commerce fisheries disaster declarations, and notwithstanding the fact that the Senate passed a relief package on a bipartisan basis that included $150 million for fisheries in Massachusetts and other affected states, House Republicans made a callous and outrageous decision last night to block a vote on my amendment to provide critical aid to our fishing communities,” Tierney said in a statement.

A Senate bill addressing Sandy relief in the last Congress, which passed the Senate, included language addressing Massachusetts fisheries, but was not passed before the end of the 112th Congress, according to a statement from Markey.

“Republicans in Congress have cut this lifeline to fishing communities in Massachusetts and around the country,” Markey said in a statement. “We gave House Republicans three different options to help our fishermen, and they said no, no, no. House Republican leaders should be ashamed of themselves.”

Reginald  Zimmerman, assistant press secretary for the Massachusetts Office of Energy and Environmental affairs, said Mass. fisheries suffered major losses in the wake of the storm.

“Even before the storm the smaller fisheries were suffering because of federal programs that benefited the larger fishing fleets,” he said. “The Federal department of Commerce issued a disaster declaration for the New England Fisheries.”

Zimmerman said Markey’s section of the Congressional bill could assist the struggling fisheries.

“The bill would allocate $150 million for ground fisheries,” he said. “But that might not even be enough to save them.”

Besides the battered fisheries, Massachusetts was spared from the catastrophic damage seen in other states. Hurricane Sandy, which came ashore in October, destroyed a majority of the New Jersey shoreline, left New York City underwater and caused massive flood damage across Connecticut and Massachusetts.

Peter Judge, press officer for the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, said the state is looking at smaller recovery costs than other states.

“The preliminary total of statewide infrastructure damage, the costs of local protective actions, activating local Emergency Operation Centers and Shelters, debris removal and eligible overtime costs for first responders was approximately $22 million,” he said. “Final numbers could differ.”

Some estimates of overall damage from Sandy have exceeded $140 billion.

Judge said a majority of the damage in Massachusetts was confined to the southern coasts where the ocean swells battered the shores.

“The bulk of damage was along the coastal regions of Martha’s Vineyard and the South Coast,” Judge said.  “Mostly impacted coastal roads, bridges, seawalls, beach erosion issues.”

The new Sandy bill has yet to be approved by Congress as amendment hearings are still ongoing. A $9 billion Sandy relief bill was passed in December, but that money will not address all the damage incurred by the storm.

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