Gov. Chris Christie is adamant about his decision to adopt the Federal Emergency Management’s (FEMA) advisory flood maps. And while that decision will have a significant, and costly, impact on many of New Jersey’s shore towns, it’s a necessary step to ensure their survival, he said.
Speaking at a mobile cabinet meeting in Union Beach nearly two weeks after announcing his decision to rebuild using the advisory flood maps as a guide, Christie said it was a difficult choice, but one he had to make. Even amidst opposition as shore towns and residents voice their objections to the maps and their expanded flood-prone A and V Zones, Christie’s not backing down.
Whether towns and residents rebuild smarter and higher, or face the risk and high cost of building back to pre-Sandy standards, it’s not going to be cheap. Only one way offers protection from future storms like Sandy, however.
“There’s not any way you’re going to be able to avoid those costs,” he said.
Called Advisory Base Flood Elevations, or ABFEs, the new maps were compiled prior to Sandy using historical storm data and changing topography and will eventually become the National Flood Insurance Program’s official flood elevation maps. Though the ABFEs won’t become official until the middle of 2014, at the earliest, their adoption by the state leaves impacted municipalities with few options moving forward.
Much of the criticism of the new maps focuses on changes to its various zones, specifically its A and V Zones. Both zones, according to FEMA, are prone to significant flood damage during once-a-century storms, like Sandy, with the latter susceptible to wave action. Residents who fail to rebuild their homes higher or elevate their existing properties above base flood levels will soon be subject to extreme flood insurance premiums, in some cases more than $30,000 a year.
But towns and residents in affected areas say the maps, which didn’t factor Sandy’s destruction into the equation, just aren’t accurate. Some homeowners inland with minor flood damage now find themselves in V Zones, while some neighborhoods along the barrier island, one of the most significantly impacted areas, are in A Zones.
Residents who have never seen a drop of water in their basements now find themselves in A Zones, in some cases required to raise their homes but unable to qualify for Increased Cost of Compliance funding because of their lack of flood insurance, insurance they’ve never needed before, or even after Sandy.
Homeowners who did suffer flood damage, but not substantial damage, which means damage that exceeds 50 percent of the property’s market value, are also ineligible for the ICC funding.
In Point Pleasant Boro, Council President Bob Sabosik called the new maps “a crime.”
Resident Al Faraldi, a professional surveyor who has worked on home elevation projects throughout the state, said Christie acted too soon in adopting the flood maps, responding to the scare tactics put forth by FEMA. He said the maps are simply wrong, with inaccurate figures and misinterpreted data.
Christie believes the maps could change: “If you’re in a V Zone it could turn out that you’ll be in an A Zone,” he said, but that opinion isn’t widely shared. FEMA officials, in interviews and public forums, have said it’s unlikely that any significant changes will be made, though they have said flood zone increases are almost assuredly out.
A few modifications, maybe, but when it comes to their flood maps, those who have gotten the bad news about their zone shouldn’t expect a turnaround any time soon.
Of course, along with the recent adoption of the $50.7 billion Hurricane Sandy relief package, grant sources will be funded to assist in restoration projects like home elevation. Christie has touted Community Development Block Grants and Hazard Mitigation Grants as ways to defray the cost of elevating a house. The grants are competitive, however, and there are no guarantees.
The issue of grant funding was addressed by Brick Mayor Stephen Acropolis in a previous Patch report.
"If it's a primary residence, the CDBG money will come out and that will be able to help them," he said. "But they're not going to give everybody in Brick $50,000.”
For Christie, the only acceptable solution he’s been presented with is building stronger and more resilient, which means building higher. He said he made the decision to adopt the flood maps to help speed the process of recovery, one that would have stagnated had he waited until the advisory maps became official.
Higher means less susceptible to flood damage, which means buildings survive and shore towns remain intact in the future. Higher means the shore can continue to serve as home to some and a vacation destination to others, a prospect that’s in doubt should towns and residents fail to follow ABFE guidelines.
“I’m not going to be the governor that sees the shore abandoned under my watch,” he said.