'Reluctantly,' Toms River Adopts FEMA Flood Map Guidelines
Adopting the guidelines in an ordinance allows continued ability to receive federal funds
Though Toms River Township Council members repeatedly have said they don't agree with the interim FEMA flood elevation maps, they voted Tuesday to adopt the guidelines as not to jeopardize federal and other funding.
"We're adopting them because the current executive order from the governor remains in effect and is the law of the land whether we adopt this ordinance or not," said Council President George Wittmann during the governing body's regular meeting Tuesday evening.
In Superstorm Sandy's wake, Gov. Chris Christie announced in late January that the state would adopt the Advisory Base Flood Elevation maps, which supersedes any municipal ordinances. FEMA officials have said the maps are on the conservative side and could be amended before their final adoption.
The council was told by federal officials that they had until Tuesday to adopt an ordinance accepting the maps. If they didn't, it would "put in jeopardy" participation in the National Flood Insurance Program, which could impact mortgages and commerce in Toms River, Wittmann said.
Additionally, $60 million in Increased Cost of Compliance applications could have been denied, as residents have said insurers Allstate and Fidelity would not pay claims without the ordinance in place, according to Wittmann.
Adoption also ensures that reimbursement funds for past and future recovery work will come to Toms River, according to the council.
The ordinance establishes that the township's Planning Board will hear appeals to the mapping, but township attorney Kenneth Fitzsimmons said that it would take an "extreme basis" for variances to be granted. Too many positive appeals could disqualify Toms River from participating in the National Flood Insurance Program.
Anchorage Drive resident David Lipton was affected by Sandy's flooding and took exception to the council's adoption of the maps. The council should continue to oppose them, he said in a lenghty exchange with the council during a public hearing on the ordinance.
But, "the governor's order is in full effect," Wittmann said. "The FEMA maps are adopted by the governor by executive order whether we adopt them or not."
Under FEMA regulations, the interim maps in use now cannot be appealed, according to the council. Should the final maps in August continue to have what are seen as inaccuracies, the township can and will appeal then.
"We can't challenge them until they come out with something solid," Wittmann said.
George Kasimos, who organized Stop FEMA Now shortly after the agency released the advisory base flood elevation data, thanked the council and township administrators for their opposition to the maps, including a resolution opposing them and letters written to federal and state officials. Several council members were present during that group's meeting last weekend.
"I appreciate everything you're doing for us. I really do. I think that with your help we can change it," he said.
All council members — except for John Sevastakis who had an excused abense for a family matter — voted in favor of the ordinance, but several indicated that they did so "reluctantly," like Mo Hill.
"I wrestled with the ordinance as late as [Tuesday] afternoon," Hill said. But in the end, it needed to be approved to ensure federal dollars continue coming to Toms River.
"We need to get reimbursed. That is too much to put at risk," Council Vice President Maria Maruca said.
The township and residents — including grassroots groups like the one formed by Kasimos — need to continue a "full-court press" on FEMA to ensure the final maps are accurate, Maruca said.
Council members said that the township should take action in the form of a resolution to the state Department of Banking and Insurance to investigate claims of insurers holding the funds residents need to rebuild.