LOWER TOWNSHIP – Lower Township Council announced a win this week in its fight to prevent FEMA from expanding the township’s flood zones.
“We have temporarily won our fight with FEMA concerning flood maps,” Councilman Tom Conrad said at the May 1 meeting. “While the rest of the county is being put into the new flood maps that should be published in October, all of Lower Township – especially those residents in Villas and those who reside north of Cox Hall Creek – will still be in the same flood zones as the prior maps.”
Conrad said that there will be no new “V or VE zones…no properties that have never flooded now being in a major flood zone, no new flood area construction codes and no drastic increase in flood insurance.”
“The township has been working on this, meeting and arguing with FEMA on it…arguing that new areas should not be put in flood zones for administrative convenience, rather than best available science,” he said.
For now, the Federal Emergency Management Agency will continue to rely on existing Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs) preventing many residents from being pulled into an expanded flood zone.
“The fact that Lower is the only municipality in Cape May County allowed to use its existing flood maps is huge is the real estate market, in savings to our taxpayers,” said township manager Jim Ridgway.
Preliminary maps expanding flood zones in Villas and other bayside neighborhoods were first proposed by the federal agency in 2014. Lower Township responded by retaining attorney Richard Hunt, of the South Jersey law firm Parker McCay, to argue against the maps. According to Conrad, retaining counsel was a factor in the temporary win on flood zone expansion.
“We will continue to negotiate with FEMA on behalf of our residents to hopefully come to a final resolution to end this matter in a way that is beneficial to our residents and protect Lower Township from actual flooding,” he said, noting the importance of continued work with the disaster relief agency.
FEMA relies on a Flood Insurance Study report and the Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM) to map a community’s flood hazards and to determine who is required to buy flood insurance. The Flood Disaster Protection Act of 1973 mandates that flood insurance must be purchased for structures within designated zones as a condition of receipt of federal or federally backed financing.
“FEMA will return to reevaluate the township,” Conrad said, noting that the agency is expected to continue its reconsideration of new flood zone maps in 2018.