The following letter to the editor addressing dealing with the Federal Emergency Management Agency was submitted by Councilman John Sevastakis:
The mainland of Toms River, as well as Ortley Beach and every other waterfront neighborhood, including my own were shaken to the core by Superstorm Sandy more than 3 months ago. Since that time, I personally have been balancing my role as a husband and father trying to secure a temporary home for my family, a businessman whose income is depended upon to support my family and a Councilman-at-Large whose obligation it is to act in the best interest of all of our taxpayers and citizens regardless of which section of town they live in. Never has there been a time as an elected official that I have felt more challenged by the weight of my responsibilities then now.
There is one agency that appears to hold all the important cards with regard to my decision making about my own home, the homes I have committed to restoring as a Builder and just as importantly, the decisions made as an elected official regarding how to help the residents of our town get back into their homes. That agency is FEMA, whose name has become a household word for many of us, usually spoken with a tone of anger and frustration. I have spent numerous hours and days, since Oct. 29 of last year, fact finding to obtain answers regarding FEMA’s new regulations. Until the past few weeks, we were all forced to do that, waiting for FEMA officials to open the lines of communication and clarify what this new elevation map actually meant to the residents of Toms River and every other waterfront town severely affected by Sandy.
When we finally started receiving clarification from FEMA, instead of bringing some peace of mind, in many cases it confirmed many homeowners’ worst case scenario with regard to their homes and the expectations related to raising their homes in accordance with the new flood zone designations. Through the cloud of red tape rhetoric, I have continued to do my due diligence as an elected official who wants to see our town come through this disaster and made whole again. The following information is what I received from the FEMA Informational Workshop arranged by the Township, which I attended on Jan. 26 at Toms River High School East, as well as in a private meeting, a few days before that, accompanied by the Mayor, the Business Administrator, Councilman Whittmann and Councilman Carr.
There were over 75 FEMA representatives and numerous township employees, who represented several different areas of expertise present at the Workshop. The three separate sessions were able to serve over 1,400 residents. For those residents that were unable to attend, a portion of FEMA’s presentation that day is on the Township Website. A few of the more important programs are summarized below however more detailed information on all of them is also available on the Township Website www.tomsrivertownsip.com.
If you sustained greater than 50 percent damage to your dwelling unit and you had flood insurance, you would be eligible for funds under the FEMA "Increased Cost of Compliance" or (ICC) program to raise your property. The funding is up to $30,000 and the Township Engineer’s office has additional information to assist you. There is a process you need to follow including the need to obtain a Proof of Loss from your insurance carrier that documents the damage to your property. The determination of whether you have greater than 50 percent damage is based on the improvement value of your dwelling, not the land, which can be found on the Ocean County Clerk Tax Records http://www.co.ocean.nj.us/TaxBoardTaxListSearch.aspx. If your Proof of Loss claim exceeds 50 percent of the improvement value on the tax records then you would be eligible.
In our meeting with FEMA representatives on Jan. 23, we discussed our concerns with the Advisory Base Flood Elevation (ABFE) maps, specifically with regard to the Velocity "V" Zone designations on the mainland areas. We were advised that revised maps based on further data and study will be published in August and it is likely that the Velocity Zone will "shrink" on the mainland however no further information will be available until August. Governor Christie announced on Jan. 25 that the ABFE maps that were published by FEMA and the National Flood Insurance Program in December of 2012, would be adopted in the State of NJ, in an effort to allow rebuilding to begin. Therefore, it is incumbent upon all township officials to caution and advise all property owners that the current ABFE maps are the law in this State until the new maps are issued. One important statement made by the FEMA representatives was that it was "highly unlikely" that the Velocity Zone will expand in Ortley Beach. In essence, if according to the ABFE maps, you are currently in a V zone on the mainland, you may ultimately end up in a less restrictive zone, however if you are not in a V zone on the barrier island, it is "highly unlikely" that you will end up in the more restrictive zone when the final maps are published in August.
The Township is also participating through Ocean County in FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program. This is a "competitive" program with limited funding that can be used to raise your home and repair the damage. I only briefly mention this program in this article due to the fact that the deadline to sign up is currently Feb. 5, which will have already passed by the time this article is published.
The Township is also soliciting information for FEMA funding for residents/property owners who still have debris on their property that they are unable to clean up or who have homes that unfortunately will need to be demolished. If you fall into either of the afore-mentioned categories, you simply need to send an email to our Township Business Administrator, Paul Shives at firstname.lastname@example.org and he will add your property to the list. There is paperwork that will need to be filled out so please include your name, address, contact phone number and email address. Additionally, FEMA funding may be available for removal of debris from commercial properties as well and the process is the same for those business owners. As with all FEMA funding, the Township does not control the timing, schedule or approval of funding. Our Township Officials promise that we will advocate for ALL property owners but the final decision rests with FEMA.
In conclusion, the affects of Superstorm Sandy dealt a crippling blow to our town that is unprecedented and the aftermath is already a challenge to our emotional spirit, physical strength and mental resilience without being clouded by Federal rules and regulations that were continue to evolve before all of us. Please know that the Township is there to assist you and provide information as best we can. We strive to operate on the "best information available" principle and will only release information that we believe to be factual on our website. If you have any problems obtaining information from one of our departments, please email me, as well as the rest of the council, Mayor Kelleher and our Business Administrator, Paul Shives and we assure you that we will follow up to ensure that you receive the information that you seek.