Belmar Mayor Matt Doherty is back in New Jersey after spending several days in Pass Christian Mississippi to learn about how the similarly sized town recovered after Hurricane Katrina.

Pass Christian Mayor Leo McDermott (L) on the steps of City Hall with Belmar Mayor Matt Doherty (Facebook)

After several e-mail correspondences with Pass Christian Mayor Leo “Chipper” McDermott, Doherty visited the coastal town of about 5,000. Doherty says during his time there he learned not only about the immediate challenges that come with surviving a hurricane, but also that might not be expected. He notes Pass Christian had to do a major sewer renovation project after waters from Katrina supercharged their system.

“That’s something I never thought of. It’s easy to see the boardwalk being destroyed and it needs to be replaced. It’s easy to see houses that were damaged, what’s not so evident is what happens underground and that can be more expensive and more time consuming than anything underground.” Adding inspecting the borough’s sewer systems will be one of the first things he does upon his return. Belmar also had it’s sewer supercharged after Sandy.

Mayor McDermott’s administration also provided Doherty with advice on how to avoid the mistakes they made after Katrina. Specifically obtaining federal funding and navigate through issues with FEMA. Doherty notes, he learned the importance of making sure every claim is filed and worded carefully.

“You know FEMA may approve something one day and then the Office of inspector General a year or two years later may say that FEMA should not have approved that and you have to fight to maintain that funding.”

While Belmar’s economy is based around the tourism season, the visit to Pass Christian also gave Doherty a chance to speak with business owners who were affected and still deal with issues from the storm.

“You can tell their minds go back to Katrina very quickly and very easily.” He notes.

The Belmar Mayor says overall one of the most important things he learned on the trip, which he paid out of his own pocket, was how to deal with the long road to recovery that lies ahead.

“To make sure I listen to people, take empirical evidence of what we should be doing, but ultimately the mayor has to make the ultimate decision.”