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States use Hurricane Ida damage to push infrastructure bill

Elaine S. Povich, on

Published in News & Features

“We urge Congress to capitalize on this rare bipartisan agreement to deliver a transformative infrastructure bill to the American people,” said NGA Chair Asa Hutchinson, Republican of Arkansas, and Vice Chair Phil Murphy, Democrat of New Jersey.

In New Jersey, state Senate President Stephen Sweeney, a Democrat, said the storm’s destruction in his state “opened a lot of eyes” to the devastating effects of stronger storms brought on by climate change. “You don’t have this many [climate change] deniers anymore. The West Coast is burning, and the East Coast is drowning. I don’t even hear many of my Republican friends denying what’s going on.”

Sweeney, 63, said he’s seen a lot of inclement weather in New Jersey over the years, but the destructive storms are getting worse.

“I’ve never seen this in my lifetime,” he said in a phone interview. “It leveled homes, it wiped out farms.” In Gloucester County, where he was once the top county official, the small city of Wenonah is known as “tree city” because of its vast canopy of century-old trees. It saw its foliage flattened “on every single block in every single direction,” Sweeney said.

He said the storm that hit his state and killed 27 people there gave lawmakers in Washington, D.C., who are “talking about … [hardening infrastructure] the best example of why it needs to be done.”

Murphy has been in regular communication with Biden, congressional leaders and the state’s congressional delegation to push for the infrastructure money, the governor’s office said in an email. Biden visited New Jersey and New York in the wake of the storm to assess the damage and call for passage of the core infrastructure bill as well as the larger package.


“The widespread damage caused by Tropical Storm Ida reinforces just how pressing our infrastructure needs are,” Murphy said in a statement emailed to Stateline. “With the worsening impacts of climate change, New Jersey will be faced with more frequent and more severe storms and flooding.”

Michelle Coryell, Sweeney’s chief of staff, said her house in Wenonah had six “decent-sized” trees come through it—into the living room, the foyer and the side enclosed porch. “There was a tree in the pool,” she said in a phone interview. “Seeing something like this for the first time is scary,” she said.

Coryell said the county and the state worked with the small city to get power back on and clear debris. All aspects of government, including federal officials, need to work together in a situation like this, she said.

If there’s anything good that came out of the storm, she said, it’s that “the levels of government can work together and coordinate and have a plan in place for situations like this that can happen.”

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