New Jersey will adopt the Federal Emergency Management's (FEMA) Advisory Base Flood Elevation maps, clearing the way for residents and business owners along the Jersey Shore to rebuild better and stronger, Gov. Chris Christie announced during a press conference in Seaside Heights Thursday afternoon.
The move comes as residents along the shore wait to find out not if they'll have to raise their homes following Hurricane Sandy, but just how high.
"If we wait, all we're doing is delaying New Jersey's recovery," Christie said, adding: "I think this is what we need to do to build a 21st century Jersey Shore."
The and recommend that residents in flood zones in 10 counties and 194 communities raise their homes on average between 1 and 5 feet. Based on a scientific analysis of recent and past storms, the flood maps estimate the kind of flooding various zones can expect during a once-a-century storm, like Hurricane Sandy.
It's anticipated that the advisory maps will be adopted by FEMA as its new flood insurance maps. While the new maps - and new insurance rates - won't become official for anywhere between 18 and 24 months, conforming to the standards of the advisory maps is necessary when it comes to rebuilding, Christie said.
By adopting the advisory maps at the state level, Christie said it removes the onus from municipalities still struggling to understand the maps and their ramifications. The move also eliminates the potential for what could have been a patchwork of non-conforming standards throughout the state.
Adoption also makes it easier for property owners to begin to rebuild by removing the need for state Department of Environmental Protection permitting, a step usually required for those looking to elevate their homes.
"In my viewpoint this is very good news for Middletown and its residents," said Middletown Mayor Gerard Scharfenberger, in a statement to Patch. "The governor’s action puts some certainty into what has so far been a very uncertain process."
Middletown had already begun the process of adopting the Advisory Base Flood Elevations (ABFEs) that the governor has now enacted.
"This saves us and our residents at least 4-6 weeks’ worth of time," Scharfenberger said. "While it still may take some significant time for many people to sort through all of their issues with their flood insurance companies, FEMA, SBA and their mortgage companies, at least now they know what standard they have to build to and they can at least start the process of finding out what all of their costs are likely to be.
Christie said New Jersey is adopting the flood maps as is, though he encouraged property owners in affected flood zones to build higher, if possible. Should FEMA determine that its advisory maps are too high in some areas, it will only benefit property owners by having buildings that are safer and more resilient to future storms, Christie said.
Using an example offered by FEMA, Christie explained the kind of flood insurance premium increases property owners could anticipate if they don't build to, or above, the new flood maps.
If a property in an A Zone, which is described as a high-hazard zone, is 4 feet below the flood maps, the owner can expect to pay up to $31,000 in insurance a year. If the property is built or elevated to the new standard, that total drops to $7,000. Another two feet above the the recommended height and that total is cut in half.
FEMA has maintained since introducing the new maps that while they are advisory, they are expected to be very similar to those adopted as the new insurance maps. FEMA officials have stated publicly that while the flood maps could go down in some areas, they will not increase.
By adopting the advisory maps, New Jersey has also made it easier for property owners to receive Increase Cost of Compliance, or ICC, funding. For those with flood insurance, ICC can provide as much as $30,000 to raise a home. Without adopting FEMA's standards, however, that money would not be released.
"I can't wait another 18 to 24 months to rebuild the Jersey Shore," Christie said. "That is an unacceptable alternative to me."
Bob Burlew, the construction official in Union Beach and Keyport, said there are 510 houses that have to be rebuilt in Union Beach, and there are 2,000 people currently without a home.
Burlew said he hoped the governor's announcement would move things forward.
"It's a gigantic mess. It's terrible over here. I don't even know where to start and I'm in the middle of it" he said.
Burlew, who has depended on help from construction officials in five different towns to manage an overwhelming workload, said a major problem is that folks can't afford to rebuild, and can't afford the SBA loans because they lost cars and can't get to work. They won't be able to afford insurance costs that could potentially be higher than their property taxes. They need the ICC money.
"We need the people to get their money," he said.