A crew of nine workers from Hillsborough's Department of Public Works spent most of Thursday cutting and grinding their way through a half dozen trees on several Long Hill Road properties that were toppled during Superstorm Sandy.
It's been more than 12 weeks since the storm, and DPW Director Buck Sixt still has pages of addresses with trees and debris to be cleaned up. If it weren't for the additional help provided by nine temporary workers hired under an emergency program, who knows when it could all be done.
Stopping by to check in with the workers Thursday was a group of local officials, including New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development Commissioner Harold Wirths.
Wirths toured the township's Auten Road dump site also, where the township has collected nearly 30,000 cubic yards of debris from the storm—nearly six times the amount typically collected in a year.
Hillsborough applied early for participation in the National Emergency Grant program, which provided up to $16 million for municipalities to hire temporary workers from among area unemployed residents who are not receiving other benefits. Somerset County is administering the program—which has also helped place temporary workers in Bridgewater, Franklin, Raritan and Somerville—as the employer of record. Each of the hired employees can receive up to $12,000 for six months work, plus receive as much as $4,000 for incidentals, including special equipment that may be needed (such as steel toe boots) and physicals required.
"That's the real story: 11 people's lives were changed by this opportunity," Wirths said. "As labor commissioner, that's what I really look for."
The program has placed some 500 such temporary workers across the state, and may be expanded by an additional 600.
For township officials, the story's a bit different: thanks to the temporary workers—plus two others brought in to help the Parks and Recreation Department clean up the township's trails and parks—have provided 652 hours of work, saving taxpayers more than $29,000.
"This is a really great program for us," Mayor Frank DelCore said. "It gives us the opportunity to supplement our workforce."
Commissioner Wirths also noted the collaborative nature of the program's operations, from the prompt approval the state received from President Barack Obama, to the county's role in hiring and the township's fast placement of workers in the field.
Sixt said once the workers have finished clearing the debris around township property and for township seniors, they'll move into areas along stream beds and wetlands.
"There's a lot of stuff along streams and where there aren't houses," he said. "There's still a ton of stuff."