Point Boro Resident Among Those Protesting FEMA Flood Maps at DEP Hearing
NJ Department of Environmental Protection holds public hearing in Long Branch
A huge crowd came to Long Branch City Hall for the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection's (DEP) public hearing to protest the potential adoption of FEMA's advisory base flood elevation (ABFE) maps as the new elevation standard for the the state.
The crowd on Thursday night was mostly comprised of many unhappy homeowners from around the state impacted by Hurricane Sandy.
"The thought of increasing flood insurance premiums into the tens of thousands of dollars is daunting," Toms River resident Margaret Quinn said.
Quinn, who lives in the Silverton section of Toms River, said her house was more than 50 percent damaged. She, like so many others, has been displaced by the hurricane and is now faced with rebuilding questions and concerns.
"I was in an A zone and I'm now in V zone," Quinn said.
Construction standards in a V-zone are more stringent in order to account for the increased risk of damages from storm surges, a DEP release states.
"The DEP adopted on an emergency basis and is now proposing amendments to the Flood Hazard Area Control Act rules relating to the construction and reconstruction of buildings in flood hazard areas based on the most recent and reliable flood elevation data," the release states.
Most in attendance agreed that the ABFE maps are flawed.
That includes Tom Bolcar, who lives on Glenwood Drive in the Sunshine Harbor section of Point Pleasant Borough. Sandy flooded part of his property, though not his primary living space.
However, Sandy flooded the first floors of many of Bolcar's neighbors in Sunshine Harbor, east of Beaver Dam Road. And with few exceptions, those are the residents' primary homes, not summer homes.
Many of the Sunshine Harbor residents, like so many Sandy-battered residents throughout the Jersey Shore region, are confused about what to do next since the ABFE maps are "preliminary," not final, and it's unclear how much financial aid residents will receive in the form of government grants or loans.
Bolcar urged the state to stop supporting the federal maps and, instead, to give the Sandy-battered residents and their elected federal lawmakers a chance to persuade FEMA to change part of the maps, most notably to move some sections of the community out of the V zones. (For the full text of Bolcar's testimony, please see attached PDF).
A lot of Bolcar's sentiments were shared by residents from other towns.
For example, George Kasimos, of Toms River, a Stop FEMA Now member, told the DEP, "Establishing the flood zones is not an exact science, but the flood V zones and A zones are riddled with errors. We need to get together and not let the federal government push us around."
Kasimos also argued that seniors and disabled veterans should be exceptions to the new flood zone rebuilding standards.
"How do you expect them to be able to raise their homes or afford to do it?" Kasimos asked.
Kathy Serra, of Lavallette, a member of the West Point Island Civic Association, said many residents in her neighborhood do not want to raise their homes.
"Most people are not in favor of elevating their homes as they cannot afford to do that," Serra said. "Elevating our homes or paying $30,000 in flood insurance is something nobody wants to deal with."
Some municipalities in the state, such as Long Branch, have adopted FEMA's ABFE maps and are requiring new construction or reconstruction within the flood zones to be three feet higher than the base flood elevation.
The DEP is encouraging towns to adopt the ABFE maps because it makes them eligible for Increased Cost of Compliance (ICC) assistance and other federal mitigation aid.
Jeff Tittel, the director of the New Jersey Chapter of the Sierra Club, said the DEP needs to take an "overall holistic approach" to determining the new flood bases.
"We need to take a look at how to restructure our coast," Tittel said. "We want to keep families on our coast and not just have a bunch of Pier Villages."
Tittel said dunes should be restored and that some homes should be pushed away from the water's edge instead of elevated.
A South Seaside Park resident said there are many low income families in her area who could be forced out because of high insurance costs.
"If they are forced to sell, either major developers or the very wealthy will take over the area," she said. "If the current maps are finalized, the demographic in the area will be dramatically changed."
The current ABFE maps could change again by the end of this year, so residents are faced with the decision of waiting to rebuild or using the current maps as a standard for elevating or flood-proofing their homes.
"FEMA anticipates some changes to the ABFE maps for both elevations and zones and plans to release the updated flood maps this year," a release from the DEP states. "These revisions will further fine-tune coastal flooding elevations as well as areas that in A-zones and V-zones."
The federal government's process to finalize the maps could take up to two years.