- Associated Press - Thursday, February 11, 2016

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - New Jersey lawmakers on Thursday were left scratching their heads wondering why the state got only $15 million in federal flood protection funding.

Legislators on the Democrat-controlled Senate oversight committee said they’ll have to wait for the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department to release its scoring on the competitive grant application later this month before they can draw conclusions.

The panel heard from environmentalists, residents and regional stakeholders as part of an inquiry into the application by Republican Gov. Chris Christie’s administration for the competitive grant that was unveiled last month.

The state requested about $300 million to build embankments to protect against flooding in the Meadowlands as well as for a New Jersey Transit bus garage in the region. Instead, the $15 million will go to develop a list of best practices for communities facing flooding, lawmakers said.

Other states, including New York, received more grant money. New Jersey’s neighbor won about $200 million of some $1 billion in available funds.

Since the amount was announced, department Secretary Julian Castro - part of the Democratic Obama administration - told reporters that New Jersey submitted a weak application and that further details on the scoring have to wait until later before becoming public.

Christie’s office has said the grant award was disappointing and it angered the state’s congressional delegation. Also, on Thursday, Joelle Farrell, a spokeswoman for Gov. Chris Christie, said it’s hard to see the committee hearing as anything but political.

Senate President Steve Sweeney disputed that and said the purpose of the hearing was getting to the bottom of what happened in the application process.

“This isn’t a witch hunt,” he said.

Neither the federal housing department nor the state Department of Environmental Protection was represented at the hearing. Messages seeking further comment were not immediately returned.

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