JERSEY CITY, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — New Jersey was expected to receive a critical supply of rock salt that was held up by the Department of Homeland Security because it was being carried on a foreign ship.
On Tuesday afternoon, Sen. Cory Booker told WCBS 880’s Steve Scott that he and Sen. Robert Menendez were able to work with federal authorities to release the much-needed rock salt to the Garden State.
“Right now, with the critical crisis we have with storm after storm after storm hitting our state, with cities and our state depleting their supplies of rock salt, this is an urgent matter,” Booker said. “The state’s going to be able to get the salt that it needs.”
State officials say a shipment of 40,000 tons of salt had been halted in Maine because a foreign-flagged vessel was carrying the salt. According to the Merchant Marine Act of 1920, ships carrying cargo between U.S. ports must be carried on U.S.- flagged ships.
Booker said officials were able to find a smaller U.S.-flagged ship, so while it won’t be able to bring the full load at once, a shipment of road salt will likely arrive ahead of the next winter storm.
“I don’t have an exact time, and I don’t want to put one on because … this is an evolving story,” he said. “But I know Sen. Menendez and I will keep the pressure and heat on to make sure this is done as quickly as possible. I’m feeling good about the progress we’re making and feel hopeful about the weather ahead, but we want to be prepared for the crisis.”
The senators noted in a letter to DHS that parts of New Jersey have been hit with more than 70 inches of snow so far this winter.
“The roads are very clogged with ice and snow. Even worse [are] the pathways, and not to have the salt creates an insecure environment for all of us,” Elizabeth resident Peter Nelson told CBS 2’s Christine Sloan.
In addition, the New Jersey Department of Transportation filed a request with the DHS on Feb. 13 to waive the Merchant Marine Act of 1920 under the national security exception and allow a foreign-flagged vessel to deliver the salt.
“I am convinced that a waiver a couple of days ago would’ve had the salt here already, so the faster we get a waiver, the faster we get the salt,” New Jersey Assemblyman Jon Bramnick said. “I’m deeply troubled that there hasn’t been a waiver.”
Booker said he’s been hearing from communities all across the state, reporting they were dangerously low or completely out of road salt.
“Sometimes, it takes partnerships across a level of government as well as across state boundaries to get something like this done,” the junior senator said. “So I’m just grateful that it looks like we’re having some breakthrough. It is a major public safety issue, and so I’m just happy to see that this is going to have a good ending.”
New Jersey DOT Commissioner James Simpson said the salt shortage could force him to close major roadways during storms if a long-term solution isn’t banged out.
Simpson said the U.S. Department of Transportation told him it has found two barges that could carry a total of 15,000 tons to New Jersey in about three weeks.
“This is about protecting the citizens of the United States of America and our own government is preventing us from doing what’s right,” Simpson said.
DOT Spokesman Joe Dee said the state has used more than 370,000 tons of salt as of Feb. 11, before last Thursday’s storm. That compares to 258,000 tons of salt used all of last winter.
A smaller U.S. vessel is scheduled to bring one-quarter of New Jersey’s total order to the Garden State by this weekend. The barge will travel back and forth from Maine several times, officials said..
“It’s not optimal, but right now it seems to be a way,” Booker told WCBS 880’s Marla Diamond.
In Jersey City, officials have been waiting for about 3,000 tons of salt to arrive.
In the meantime, crews are working to clear areas in the state’s second-largest city so that residents can have better access to supermarkets, banks, pharmacies and other businesses.
The snow will be hauled to vacant city, county and state properties, officials said.
“We thank residents for their patience during what has been one of the harshest winters on record,” Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop said in a statement. “With everyone’s cooperation, this can be a seamless process that will help improve the mobility of both pedestrians and motorists as well as ease parking conditions.”
Residents are being asked to not park on certain streets from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m. while crews remove the snow or until snow has visibly been removed.
Officials said crews will work around cars that were not moved on Tuesday, but on Wednesday, anyone who hasn’t moved their vehicle will be subject to a ticket and tow.
To see a full list of streets being targeted, click here.
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