The same complaints George Kasimos has shared with his neighbors across the street he’s seen posted online, questions and concerns futilely written in emails and posted on message boards and social media sites, left unanswered. Residents are angry, they’re frustrated, and they want to know what’s next.
There’s a movement brewing, but what it lacks is direction.
Like many residents of the Jersey Shore, Kasimos is facing an uncertain future following Hurricane Sandy, one that’s especially clouded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s new flood elevation maps. He wants to fight the maps, knows he’s not alone. But if residents are to stand a chance, they need to be organized and share the same motivation.
The solution is simple, he said, and it’s represented right into the name of the grassroots group he’s started to see it through: Stop FEMA Now.
“Are we here for FEMA? No, they're supposed to be here for us,” he said during a recent phone interview. “We need to get the word out. Most people take it on the chin. We don’t have to take it on the chin. We need to let people know what’s going on.
“We need to come together and tell them to stop it.”
Stop FEMA Now is hosting an information session and meet and greet this Saturday afternoon in Toms River. Kasimos said everyone along the shore who has issue with FEMA’s new flood maps, known as Advisory Base Flood Elevation maps, and their flood zone designations should make a point of stopping by.
The more residents who participate in the effort to fight FEMA, the better chance they fair, Kasimos said.
A Toms River resident, Kasimos said his home suffered flood damage during Hurricane Sandy. Tasked with rebuilding after the storm, Kasimos said he’s had to delay progress after learning that his property has been rezoned. Previously in the A Zone, Kasimos’s property is now listed in the V Zone, which means during a once-a-century storm, like Sandy, it could be subject to wave action. The move will essentially require Kasimos to raise his home above the new flood elevations.
Should he fail to elevate his home, he, like other residents who now find themselves in V Zones or, for the first time, in the also flood-prone A Zone, Kasimos would conceivably be on the hook for flood insurance premiums in the area of tens of thousands of dollars annually.
The advisory flood maps are simply unfair, Kasimos said. Instead of calling on towns to build seawalls or the Army Corps to dredge waterways and rebuild dunes higher, the burden of flood mitigation falls directly on residents, many who can neither afford to elevate their homes or pay the inflated insurance premiums if they don’t, he said.
“First, let’s change the thinking. In Galveston (Texas) they built a sea wall. In Seaside Heights they’re building a sea wall. Don’t you think it would be more cost effective to build a sea wall, or build dunes higher?”
But, as Kasimos believes, it’s not about flood mitigation, but about funding the FEMA-run National Flood Insurance Program. The flood maps were developed prior to Sandy and do not include data from the storm. According to some, the maps are more than just a little bit inaccurate. In some cases, properties that have never flooded before or during Sandy now sit in designated flood zones. Homes that sit along waterways that haven’t been maintained properly or had adequate protections put in place have been tasked with footing the bill for future floods both in New Jersey and the rest of the country, Kasimos said.
“This isn’t just a New Jersey issue, this is a national issue,” he said. “From my understanding, 18 percent of people in the country are in flood zones, and there are going to be more.
“My flood insurance is going to go from $1,000 to $17,000 if I don’t elevate. There are some folks that are walking around in circles – they don’t know what to do. We don’t need an answer, we need 100 answers here.”
Support for Stop FEMA Now has already started to grow. The new group’s Facebook page, which is used to post stories and news clips related to FEMA and its flood maps, already has nearly 500 likes. Kasimos has also started the site stopFEMAnow.com to serve as a landing page for residents looking for information or to join the fight against FEMA.
“The only way they’re going to listen to us, (U.S. Sen. Frank) Lautenberg, (U.S. Sen.) Menendez, FEMA, (Gov. Chris) Christie, is if we have 5,000 or 10,000 or 100,000 people to join us,” he said. -
Stop FEMA Now is hosting a Meet and Greet and Rally this Saturday, Feb. 23 from 3 to 4 p.m. at Belly Busters Restaurant, 708 Fisher Blvd., Toms River. The public is welcome to attend.