Point Pleasant Borough Mayor Bill Schroeder wishes he could provide the public with some actual answers.
With council chambers packed with residents Tuesday night, Schroeder talked about a meeting he had with a liaison to Gov. Christie’s office recently to discuss, among other things, the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) newly-adopted advisory flood maps.
It must have qualified as a good discussion, he said, at least considering how long it lasted. But when he stood up from the table after the meeting, he realized that all of the questions he had before the meeting remained unanswered.
“Quite honestly, nothing got resolved,” he said of his talk, unintentionally prefacing a meeting that would turn out to be more of a group therapy session for Sandy-affected residents than one of new information. “I’m frustrated by the fact that I can’t get an answer that I can bring back (to the public).”
Point Borough opened its council meeting with an update from town engineer Ernie Peters on FEMA’s hazard mitigation grant program, which could help residents cover some of the cost of elevating their homes. In all, he said, 215 families in town have filed an application for the grant so far, requesting an average of $80,000.
There’s still time to apply, he reminded the audience, but for many, the entire thing just doesn’t make sense.
After opening the floor to comment, a stream of concerned residents stepped to the microphone to voice their objection to FEMA’s Advisory Base Flood Elevation, or ABFE, maps.
In many instances, residents who have long been listed in the A Zone, a zone that is prone to flooding but not severe flooding, now find themselves in V Zones, a distinction that could see their insurance rates rise to more than $30,000 annually.
Some residents who have never even seen a drop of water in their homes, even during Sandy, are responsible for raising their properties, too.
Among those faced with this new reality is Brian McAlindin. The borough resident said his home in Bay Head Shores has been rezoned from an A-5 to a V-9. The change will undoubtedly require him to raise his home several feet or face paying tens of thousands of dollars more each year to insure against floodwaters.
But it’s not the insurance cost that’s bothering him. It's the flood maps, which were adopted by the state recently. The maps have been contested by shore towns and residents who claim they’re just plain wrong.
“I can’t emphasize the importance of fighting the V Zones,” he said, urging the council to reach out to FEMA and to get them in town to actually see the neighborhoods they’ve rezoned. “The idea that (some of these homes) are subject to wave velocity is absurd.”
FEMA’s advisory maps were developed prior to Sandy using data culled from historic, and national, storms like Hurricane Katrina, changing and more detailed analysis of topography and the shore, and weather’s impact on 1,800 miles of coastal, tidal zones. The maps are intended to demonstrate how high a structure must sit off the ground to avoid flood damage from a once-a-century storm, like Sandy.
Though municipalities like Point Pleasant are hoping to see their towns remapped, FEMA officials have said publicly that the advisory maps are unlikely to change a great deal before they’re introduced as the National Flood Insurance Program’s official flood maps, a move that could come as early as next year.
That notion isn’t sitting well with local residents.
“I’ve lived here all my life and they are just so wrong with what they’ve done to this town,” Council President Bob Sabosik said. “It’s a crime.”
If Point Pleasant is going to fight FEMA’s flood maps, they need to do it right, resident and professional land surveyor Al Faraldi said. Armed with maps and other handouts, Faraldi said there is clear and definitive proof that FEMA’s calculations are wrong. In some instances, their measurements of tides are off, not by inches, but by several feet.
It won’t be enough to raise an objection, he said. What council needs to do is hire experts, whether alone or in partnership with other similarly impacted municipalities, to conduct authoritative studies and analysis of the coast and the various zones.
Point is already in a difficult position with Christie’s adoption of FEMA’s ABFEs, a move he said he felt Christie made too quickly, but if affected towns have proof that the flood maps are inaccurate, they stand a chance to see them altered.
“To go fight FEMA you need hard evidence,” he said.