Commonwealth Avenue in Strathmere floods during a January 2016 storm.

Ted Kingston

UPPER TOWNSHIP – Revised preliminary flood maps from FEMA could take up to six years to complete, township engineer Paul Dietrich said last week, but Upper Township could move to adopt them before then.

The Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRM) are being revised in response to an appeal from New York City, which challenged the methodology that was used. That will affect all maps in FEMA’s Region II, which includes New York and the entire coast of New Jersey.

But FEMA is now allowing individual towns to adopt the preliminary maps, Dietrich said. Entire counties had to adopt them prior to that, he said.

“If we wait, it will probably be another five or six years before we can adopt the maps,” Dietrich told Upper Township Committee members at their March 13 meeting.

The revised preliminary flood maps would also include data from hurricanes Irene, Sandy, and winter storm Joaquin, he said. All those storms brought record level flooding to Cape May County, Dietrich said.

“You could see flood elevations rise,” he said about waiting for revised maps.

Dietrich said insurance companies and the township’s construction office currently use old FIRM maps, but moving to the new maps would reduce the number of properties in flood zones. He said about 100 properties in Strathmere would move out of the V (or velocity) zone and into the A zone under the new preliminary maps.

“They would see a significant decrease in flood insurance,” he said.

A zones are areas subject to flooding by the 1 percent annual chance flood event. Homes in these zones are required to be built to base flood elevation, which is the measurement at which flood waters are expected to reach in a 100-year storm.

The V or velocity zone is defined as areas subject to flooding by the 1 percent annual chance flood event with additional hazards due to storm-induced velocity wave action. Homes in the V zone have a higher base flood elevation and stricter building requirements.

The designation also determines a property’s flood insurance requirements as part of the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).

Dietrich said about 300 properties, mostly in Strathmere, would be moved out of flood zones altogether under the preliminary maps. About 30 or 40 properties on the mainland would move into the A zone, Dietrich said. Those are mostly isolated lots and some located near the Garden State Parkway, he said.

“They will have to get flood insurance,” Dietrich said.

He said people might not traditionally think of a property near the Parkway as being in a flood zone, but there are lots of small creeks and streams that run there. He said about half-a-dozen properties near the Parkway flooded during Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

Nine properties would move from the A zone into the more restrictive V zone under the preliminary maps, Dietrich said.

Homeowners who see their properties moved into a flood zone would be eligible for reduced, previously non-mapped policies, Dietrich said. Such a policy can cost anywhere from $200 to $500, he said.

Mayor Richard Palombo said he would like to see a specific outline of what properties will be moved in or out of flood zones. Committeeman Ed Barr said the information should be made available on the township’s website.

“People could educate themselves,” he said. “This information is out there.”

Palombo said the preliminary maps are substantially different from advisory FIRM maps released shortly after Sandy. Upper Township and other municipalities raised objections to those maps and prepared to fight them in court because they were a lot more restrictive, he said.

“They were about two feet higher,” Dietrich agreed. The preliminary maps instead raise base flood elevation about six inches, he said.

Solicitor Dan Young said the township contracted with Dr. Stuart Farrell, director of the Coastal Research Center at Stockton University, to survey areas on the bay in Strathmere, along Harbor Road in Beesleys Point, and along the Tuckahoe River in anticipation of a legal challenge to the advisory maps. Farrell’s surveys were largely in line with FEMA’s subsequent preliminary maps, he said.

New homes in Strathmere, or those substantially improved, have base flood elevations ranging from 11 feet and up depending on what zone they are in. The township also has an ordinance requiring homes to be built one foot above base flood elevation.

Township Committee adopted that zoning change in 2013 along with others like increasing building height to 35 feet, and exempting homeowners raising their homes from having to get a zoning variance, in anticipation of homes being raised to meet flood map requirements.

The flood maps determine what homes need flood insurance, and flood insurance is required for any home in a flood zone that has a mortgage. Flood insurance premiums have increased in recent years as the 2012 Biggert-Waters Act phases out federal subsidies.

Upper Township recently improved its rating in the NFIP’s Community Rating System, which will mean an additional discount for homeowners with flood insurance. It has been certified as a Class 5 community, improving from a Class 6 rating.

The rating change means an additional 5 percent discount on flood insurance policies here. The total discount for Upper Township homeowners will be 25 percent of their annual premium beginning Oct. 1, 2017.

Dietrich said Township Committee would have to officially notify FEMA if it wants to adopt the preliminary flood maps. Committee members said they would decide after looking at the maps.