Unfettered access to barrier island neighborhoods of Brick and Toms River, as well as Seaside Heights, will resume Jan. 7, officials announced Friday.
Brick Mayor Stephen C. Acropolis and Toms River Mayor Thomas Kelaher both signed a formal request to Gov. Chris Christie's office certifying that public utilities and roadways would be restored by that date.
The request was also signed by Seaside Heights mayor William Akers, who did not attend the ceremony because he was attending the funeral of long-time Ocean County Sheriff William Polhemus.
The access plan, if approved by Christie, will allow full public access to all of the barrier island neighborhoods in Brick and Toms River, as well as Seaside Heights, with the exception or Ortley Beach.
Roadblocks at the Mantoloking and Thomas A. Mathis bridges across Barnegat Bay will be removed, and curfew restrictions will end.
Residents will be able to move back into their homes full-time.
"This day has been a long time coming," said Acropolis."When this first happened, the goal in our three towns, which represent approximately 200,000 residents in Ocean County, was to get the residents back as quickly as possible. I believe we've reached that goal."
Acropolis credited Brick Police Chief Nils R. Bergquist and Toms River Police Chief Michael Mastronardy with helping to manage safety and security during the cleanup of Superstorm Sandy, and allowing the restoration of services to progress as quickly as it did.
Kelaher said residents will have to make their own decisions as to whether their homes are habitable.
"As far as we're concerned, they can move back in full time, part time, whatever they want to do," said Kelaher.
Kelaher said Ortley Beach will not be included in the repopulation plan because some streets are still non-existant or covered with sand, and utilities – including natural gas meters and water mains – are still not repaired in some areas of the neighborhood.
No date was given as to when that neighborhood may be ready for repopulation.
For Acropolis, the repopulation plan is a major step for the entire area.
"Growing up here at the Shore, one of the things you do is, you get in your car and take a ride," he said. "And when you get in your car to take a ride, you go to the beach."