SEASIDE HEIGHTS, N.J. (AP) — Two years ago, on the second anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie yelled at a protester frustrated with the slow pace of storm recovery to "sit down and shut up."
On Friday, a day before the fourth anniversary of the storm, it was Christie's turn to be silenced, at least temporarily.
Protesters angry that hundreds of Sandy victims have still not been able to return home four years later shouted Christie down as he visited a storm-damaged boardwalk bar in Seaside Heights. They included the heckler who Christie rebuked two years ago.
When Christie used an often-cited figure that his administration had to deal with helping 365,000 homeowners, the protesters stood up, waved signs critical of the recovery pace and began yelling at him.
"What do we want? To go home!" chanted Amanda Devecka-Rinear, director of the New Jersey Organizing Project.
They claim Christie's administration has grossly inflated the number of people it helped with storm recovery, an assertion the administration has rejected.
Before his speech, Christie's office released figures saying that of the approximately 7,600 homeowners actively participating in New Jersey's main storm rebuilding program, approximately 4,300 have completed construction and another 1,400 have returned home while construction is completed.
"I'm proud of what we've been able to do within the last four years to be able to restore our state," Christie said once the protests subsided. "I've given you the very best I can give you over the last four years in this effort."
Protesters included individuals who are still not back in their homes. And Jim Keady, an Ocean County businessman and unsuccessful candidate for state Assembly who was on the receiving end of Christie's "sit down and shut up" put-down in October 2014, also yelled out. This time, someone else told him to be quiet.
While the protesters shouted and chanted, an uncharacteristically restrained and patient Christie huddled with other residents who had come seeking help, taking down their names and phone numbers, and promising that someone from his staff would contact them on Saturday to hear their concerns.
Christie also called for abolishing the National Flood Insurance Program, saying it had failed many policy holders after Sandy.
"But I ran for president and lost, so I don't get to do it," Christie said.
Since months after Sandy hit, Christie has been pushing a plan to build or reinforce protective sand dunes along New Jersey's entire 127-mile coastline; shore towns that had the dunes fared much better during Sandy than those that did not.
But the effort has met with pockets of resistance up and down the coast. Though some work is already underway and more is due to start in the spring, some oceanfront homeowners are still fighting the plan. Friday morning, a group of five Margate homeowners asked a judge to issue an order prohibiting dunes from being built in their town just outside Atlantic City.
They claim water will become trapped between the dunes and their homes, creating fetid ponds that will spread disease and cause flooding.
Also on Friday, a group of Bay Head homeowners fighting the dune plan in court said a series of post-Sandy storms has shown that the rock wall they privately built and paid for provides adequate protection. They want to be left out of the dune plan.
"We know that we have the resources to maintain the revetment and protect our homes and our community," they said in a statement. "We have no faith that the state will have the financing to protect our community or any other community along the Jersey Shore."
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