After its last meeting was shut down by Toms River police due to overcrowding, the grassroots organization Stop FEMA Now has found a new meeting place in a location organizers hope can accommodate the group's growing numbers.
The next Stop FEMA Now meeting is planned for Sat., March 9, from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Silverton First Aid Squad at 86 Main St. in Toms River.
The venue, which is significantly larger than the group's previous meeting location, a sub shop in a strip mall, should be large enough to handle the anticipated crowd of more than 100 people.
The group has had to search for a new location after being overwhelmed at its meeting last Saturday. After receiving 20 RSVPs from area residents saying they would attend, the Belly Busters sub shop on Fischer Boulevard was inundated with people hoping to join in the fight against FEMA.
About 100 people crowded into the small storefront while many more were turned away. With the large crowd violating fire code, and with residents parking their vehicles along the boulevard, despite its many "no stopping" signs, police were forced to shut the meeting down.
Overcrowding and parking shouldn't be a problem this time around, with the first aid squad being large enough to accomodate a crowd and being located in a neighborhood with plenty of street parking.
Stop FEMA Now was developed as a way to fight FEMA's Advisory Base Flood Elevation maps, or ABFEs. The maps, which will likely become the National Flood Insurance Program's official maps in the next year or two, require residents in V and A Zones to elevate their homes, sometimes significantly, or else face insurance premiums as high as $30,000 a year.
With a sustained level of uncertainty and no one to turn to for answers, the group hopes that it can influence the flood maps discussion by presenting a unified voice.
In less than two weeks the organization has more than doubled in size. Where the first Stop FEMA Now meetings consisted of a handful of people, upcoming meetings are expected to draw more than 100 people. The group's Facebook page had roughly 400 likes this time last week. Now that number is nearly 1,000.
Stop FEMA Now founder George Kasimos said there's strength in numbers. Though altering the flood maps, which were adopted by the state recently as a way to encourage rebuilding, is a difficult proposition, Kasimos believes leaders both locally and at the state level will be forced to listen to Stop FEMA Now as its number of participants swells.
In an effort to help legitimize the group's concerns, Kasimos and Stop FEMA Now are soliciting assistance from lawyers, engineers, surveyors and public relations professionals who are willing to lend a hand for free. He's also encouraged all of the group's members to write letters to their elected officials demanding, at least, some response to the flood maps.