Last week the Governor revealed the first of his rebuilding policies in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. His Emergency Order adopting the FEMA advisory base flood maps does not require DEP to adopt the mapping for its regulatory programs and only applies to the coast. Instead the Emergency Order applies to elevation and rebuilding codes only.
Without adaptation into the DEP regulatory programs, homeowners could choose not to conform with the standards and pay higher insurance premiums. We all end up paying higher insurance premiums and put more people in harm’s way. This leaves families vulnerable to the next storm and could jeopardize compensation families receive from FEMA. Until the mapping is adopted into the DEP regulatory programs, the agency can give out development approvals in areas that flood under FEMA without elevation protections. The state will be approving projects where they will not be able to get flood insurance or mortgages risking rebuilding our coast and our economic recovery.
The emergency order only applies to the coast, not statewide. It does not include inland areas that experienced major flooding in Hurricane Sandy such as the Meadowlands or areas that traditionally flood such as along the Passaic and Raritan Rivers like Manville and Little Falls. Besides the coast, all other counties will still use the old maps that have not been updated in some cases since 1980.
In his statement the Governor said if homeowners do not adhere to the standards, the financial risk will be on the homeowners through higher insurance premiums, but the rest of the state will be paying for it too. As they rebuild in vulnerable areas, they increase the risk of insurance pools around the state. The taxpayers are paying for the rebuilding through FEMA and without standards that money will wash to sea with the next storm and they will expect more federal funding to rebuild again. If their house gets destroyed the bill is on the taxpayers as well as costs for any damage to adjoining properties.
The Governor also announced the DEP will streamline the permitting process to rebuild homes faster without DEP review. The DEP will only sign off on the project after it is completed, potentially opening a Pandora’s box of problems and violations. This could cost municipalities, homeowners, and tax payers millions as FEMA only reimburses projects that meet environmental regulations.
This is backwards; the Governor wants to build first and review later. By waiving the standards people may be waving good bye to their home in the next storm. The Governor is relaxing environmental standards and requirements which in turn actually puts people and property in harm’s way and ends up causing more problems than it solves.
New Jersey has not fully updated its FEMA flood mapping since 1980 as these updates will limit development in flood prone areas. FEMA is currently revising mapping for our state’s coastal communities based on the impacts of Hurricane Sandy and those maps should be available this summer. The new FEMA maps will be based on Hurricane Sandy but do not take into account sea level rise or the impacts of a Category three Hurricane which can hit New Jersey. The Christie administration must commit to adopting those maps in the DEP regulatory programs when they become available so we rebuild the shore better and smarter. Failure to adopt these maps will put people and property in harm’s way.
The Administration has opposed updating the flood mapping as it would limit development in flood prone areas. There are regulatory programs that limit develop in flood prone or flood hazard areas including Water Quality Planning, Flood Hazard Area, storm water and CAFRA coastal development rules. By not adopting the updates FEMA maps, these regulations are based on outdated maps that do not show the increase in flooding in New Jersey and more flood prone property. By not adopting these maps we are promoting overdevelopment in areas that flood, putting people and property in harms ways.
During the press conference, the Governor said he did not think New Jersey should include green building codes in the rebuilding process. However now is the best time to implement green building codes, as Louisiana did following Hurricane Katrina, because it not only helps reduce pollution and energy use but helps save people money.
The Governor’s rebuilding policies did not include measures to address or reduce climate pollution and prepare New Jersey for the future impacts of sea level rise and storm surges. The National Climate Assessment released this month predicts that by 2100, 1-in-10-yeat coastal flooding could triple to occur once every three years as a result of sea level rise. Rutgers predicts sea levels could rise by 11-25 inches by 2050 and could potentially increase by as much as 67 inches in 2100. We need to begin adaptation and hazard planning to better protect and move people and property out of harm’s way in preparation for such projected events.
The Governor has had an anti-environmental agenda trying to weaken environmental regulations through the waiver rule, weakening DEP rules, and pulling out of RGGI. He is now using Hurricane Sandy as a cover to weaken protections further through this emergency order and the DEP Administrative Consent Order (ACO) that allows infrastructure to rebuilt in the same place that was just destroyed.
The Governor did not address where we should not rebuild or where we should offer buyouts to homeowners. Now is the best time outline a master plan for rebuilding our shore, before people begin rebuilding in the most vulnerable areas. This should include establishing a stable source of funding for the Blue Acres Program to meet the demand. The Blue Acres program helps purchase flood prone properties and move the families out of harm’s way. Through the Blue Acres program we can create new flood storage areas along rivers and restore floodplains. Updating the FEMA mapping would qualify more homes for Blue Acres funding.
Before we can rebuild the Jersey Shore we need to know where we can build and if the state does not adopt the updated FEMA maps into the DEP regulatory programs, we are going to be putting more people at risk by creating more danger and more flooding. We will not be able to build the Shore smarter or better if we do not have a foundation based on science and these FEMA maps.