FEMA Releases New Flood Hazard Map, First N.J. Revision in 20 Years

Superstorm Sandy Data Not Included
By PAT JOHNSON | Dec 15, 2012
Photo by: Pat Johnson Rand’s Marina on Great Bay Boulevard in Little Egg Harbor was swept away by Superstorm Sandy. Increased flood insurance premiums will hit small marinas like Rand’s in January as FEMA phases out its ‘discount program’ for secondary homes and businesses.

Communities along the coast will get a vital piece of information to help make informed decisions on rebuilding after Superstorm Sandy. FEMA Advisory Base Flood Elevation maps are to be made public Saturday, Dec. 15, on www.region2coastal.com/sandy.

On average, coastal communities will see their BFE increase from 1 to 5 feet in elevation, but the new map is not based on Sandy’s devastation. Though flood insurance rates are expected to rise, they will rise across the nation.

On Friday, the Federal Emergency Management Agency held a telephone press conference with Marc Ferzan, executive director of the Governor’s Office of Recovery and Rebuilding; FEMA Risk Analysis Branch Chief Ryan Pietramali; and FEMA Hazard Mitigation Branch Deputy Director Bill McDonnell. Local municipal officials are waiting to hear the newest flood base elevations for their flood-prone areas. These maps inform building procedures in the flood plain.

The last map update was finished 20 years ago, said FEMA spokesman Kurt Pickering. This new map will revise the flood risk in 120 communities in 10 coastal counties with 1,800 miles of coastline.

New housing is required to build to a certain FEMA-informed height in order to be compliant. Each flood plain is different. In Ocean County, Stafford Township, Tuckerton and Little Egg Harbor Township lagoon communities built on former saltmarsh were at 7 feet elevation prior to Sandy. Long Beach Island was at 10 feet.

Property lots along the bay and ocean may also have a “V” flood zone designation, areas where the velocity of wave action would damage structures that are not securely elevated on pile construction or column foundations.

“The maps will inform communities as they begin planning for ‘smart’ rebuilding initiatives and seek out federal mitigation dollars,” said Ferzan.

Pietramali said FEMA had spent two years creating the new map, which was due to come out in spring 2013. The agency has fast-tracked a release to make it available during the reconstruction from Superstorm Sandy. Storm surge data from Sandy was not incorporated in the new maps, nor was global warming or projected sea level increase.

“We don’t base them on projected data,” said Pietramali. “We use data culled from 60 years, and there were substantial hurricanes and storms in the past.

“The rates the average policyholder has will rise nationwide, but Sandy won’t have much to do with it,” he added.

Starting Jan. 1, some discounts afforded some policyholders will “go away,” said Pietramali. “Those policyholders will have to pay higher rates – vacation or secondary homeowners and businesses.”

Base flood elevation maps are created to inform individuals and communities as they make their recovery from Superstorm Sandy, he said. “Those that develop at advisory base flood elevations are going to save money on their flood insurance. We want to make sure, as they begin to recover their infrastructure, that they make their decisions based on sound science.”

McDonnell explained the mitigation piece of the FEMA map. “There are a number of programs to assist in communities and individuals rebuilding,” he said. “It’s important that people know their risk, so they should look at the map that’s available tomorrow on the website. Then they need to make informed decisions and work with the resources available through their federal flood insurance, state, local and non-government agencies. Each individual must write their own recovery story; each individual makes a decision on how they are going to recover.”

Those who have suffered damage that equates to more than 50 percent of the market value of their structure and have sustained “substantial” damage will have to rebuild to the current building codes based on their municipal flood management plan. In other words, they will be required to raise the structures to the new BFE.

Programs available for raising structures are in the individual flood insurance policy. Look for “ICC” under premiums. ICC stands for Increased Cost of Compliance, and makes up to $30,000 available for raising a structure. Those who do not have flood insurance may apply for a low-cost loan through the Small Business Administration. This money is also available for homeowners, not just for businesses.

“Also, communities can apply for hazard mitigation grants,” said McDonnell. “Communities can take appropriate actions by submitting to the state Office of Emergency Management.”


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