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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

I'm Robert Siegel. And we begin this hour in New Jersey. Tourism there is big business, and the Jersey shore accounted for most of the estimated $38 billion tourists spent in the state in 2011. In late October, Hurricane Sandy devastated long stretches of the shore. In some towns, entire business districts were wiped out.

As NPR's Jeff Brady reports, policymakers are now deciding how to rebuild those towns and who'll pay for it.

JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: Think about it, and you'll start to realize how important the Jersey shore is to American culture. Sure, there's the television show "Jersey Shore," but there are more enduring signs. Consider the board game "Monopoly." Properties are named after Atlantic City locations. And during a television fundraiser for Sandy victims in November, comedian Jimmy Fallon talked specifically about the Jersey Shore.

(SOUNDBITE OF TELEVISED SANDY FUNDRAISER)

JIMMY FALLON: As all of you know, New Jersey was hit really hard. Some beaches were destroyed. Boardwalks were torn apart.

BRADY: Along with rock star Steven Tyler, Fallon sang this song to commemorate all the good times people have had at the shore.

(SOUNDBITE OF TELEVISED SANDY FUNDRAISER)

FALLON: (Singing) Under the boardwalk, down by the sea, yeah...

BRADY: For millions of people, the Jersey Shore also is part of their personal story. Lisa Petrino is a nurse from Yardley, Pennsylvania.

LISA PETRINO: My parents tell me that I was conceived at the shore, in Lavallette. For a long time, they called me Little Lava. So I feel like it's in my blood.

BRADY: Petrino says the shore's been a place where families like hers who didn't have a lot of money could vacation. For most, the shore is not a high-brow getaway. We're talking hot dogs, fudge shops, carnivals and roller coasters - not the kinds of things many people would fight to preserve, let alone rebuild. But Petrino hopes the shore she remembers will return.

PETRINO: For so many people, that roller coaster was a first date or a first holding hands or a first kiss. So, do we get another roller coaster, so that the future generations could still have that as a first experience?

BRADY: As the Jersey shore rebuilds, it's becoming clear there are competing priorities that will have to be sorted out. In Long Branch, New Jersey, Maria Montanez has something else at the top of her priority list.

MARIA MONTANEZ: I'm concerned about making sure you build smartly - not so much rebuilding everything all over again, but rebuilding the area so hopefully it protects people for the future.

BRADY: In principle, many with fond memories of the Jersey Shore will agree with that statement, but this will change what the shore looks like. A roller coaster that prompts fond memories may be built again, but perhaps not on a pier out over the water.

(SOUNDBITE OF MACHINERY)

BRADY: In Sea Bright, New Jersey, dump trucks are still hauling away piles of what used to be homes and businesses.

The cleanup here has a long way to go. Even the town hall was damaged, so for weeks after the storm, Mayor Dina Long says various departments were housed together in a gymnasium.

MAYOR DINA LONG: One hundred percent of the businesses were lost in Sea Bright during the storm, and 75 percent of our homes, at this point, are not habitable, including my own.

BRADY: Long says the city recovery plan, called Sea Bright 2020, is based on the principle of never again, that the city will never be as vulnerable to a strong storm as it was before Sandy. That means a lot of changes.

LONG: What I like to say is we're putting Sea Bright up on high heels.

BRADY: Long says a key element is elevating homes so they're above flood levels.

LONG: Is it going to look like people remember from their childhoods? The answer is no, it's not. It's going to look different. It's going to look taller. But the idea is the next time a superstorm rolls through, we want to be able to pull down the hurricane shutters and wait for the power to come back on.

BRADY: That sounds simple, but dig a little deeper, and you'll find that there are some sticky issues that policymakers - like Mayor Long - will have to sort out. Here's just one: parking. As a tourist destination, the Jersey Shore needs lots of parking spaces in the summer, but huge parking lots lead to runoff and water pollution. That is a concern for Cindy Zipf. She's executive director of Clean Ocean Action. As the shore is rebuilt, she hopes improving water quality will be a priority.

CINDY ZIPF: Do we really need to put in a parking lot that has hard blacktop that all the water runs off? Or can we put pervious surface areas and make parking lots not as big and put more green spaces in them?

BRADY: Business owners like Ernie Giglio have a different vision when it comes to parking. He co-owns a bait-and-tackle shop in Sea Bright.

ERNIE GIGLIO: A lot of the things I'd want them to do: try to get us more parking areas, as long as they're going to redesign - if they're going to redesign the area - pick out more available for customers to park.

BRADY: Sea Bright's mayor says she thinks she can balance these competing priorities. But that's just one issue. There are also questions about how beaches should be engineered. It's clear that building up dunes can protect property, but that also blocks ocean views for expensive beachfront homes.

And then there's the question of who will pay the billions of dollars it will cost to rebuild damaged communities.

(SOUNDBITE OF PHONE RINGING)

BRADY: Back at Sea Bright's makeshift city hall, Mayor Long says her community of 1,500 people suffered about $400 million in damage.

LONG: Our annual budget is $5 million. And so we have a $2 million garbage bill so far.

BRADY: You have a garbage bill that's nearly half of your annual budget.

LONG: Yes, that's correct. This is bigger than we can handle on our own.

BRADY: Some shore towns are debating whether to increase their beach access fees to raise more money for recovery, but that won't be nearly enough. The federal government will have to help. New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez had this appeal to lawmakers at a congressional hearing in late November.

(SOUNDBITE OF SPEECH)

SENATOR ROBERT MENENDEZ: So I'm asking each of our colleagues in the Congress to stand with us and help New Jerseyans recover and rebuild in our time of need, just as I, personally - since I have been here - have stood with the people of the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina or the people of Joplin, Missouri.

BRADY: The Democratically controlled Senate already has passed a relief package worth more than $60 billion. Under pressure from fellow Republicans, angry that a vote has not yet taken place, House Speaker John Boehner says his body will vote on part of the package Friday and the rest of it later this month. Jeff Brady, NPR News.

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