FEMA guidelines on new base flood elevations

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FEMA map

Brigantine municipal officials recently received guidelines regarding the new FEMA Advisory Base Flood Elevation maps. The following information is based on these guidelines.

Prior to Sandy, FEMA was performing a restudy of the New Jersey and New York coastline with anticipated plans to be delivered in mid-2013. Since the effective information for many of these areas do not currently reflect the best available data (the current plan was developed in the mid-1980s) and the regulatory products have not been finalized to be delivered to local officials and the public, FEMA believes it is vital to provide near-term Advisory Base Flood Elevations to support reconstruction efforts.

What are ABFEs?

ABFEs are based on sound engineering and current science, and are derived from updated coastal flood analyses and data as compared to the coastal elevations shown on the current effective Flood Insurance Rate Maps (FIRMs). ABFEs are updated estimates of the 1 percent annual chance flood elevations (100-year storm). The new ABFEs will reflect higher elevations than BFEs shown on current effective FIRMs.

The new ABFE for Brigantine Island shows three different delineated advisory flood hazard zones: “A” zone, “A Coastal” zone, and “V” (velocity) zone. The zones are identified by color (see accompanying map). There are two Advisory Base Flood Elevations shown. The first (upper) is for 1 percent annual chance flood elevations (100-year storm) and the second (lower) is for advisory elevations for 0.2 percent annual chance flood elevations (500-year storm). It also shows preliminary Hurricane Sandy high water marks.

On July 6, 2012, President Obama signed into law a major change in the Flood Insurance Program (Biggert-Waters 2012) which reauthorized the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) for five years. This law eliminated a variety of existing flood insurance discounts and subsidies.

As a result of that law, subsidies were scheduled to phase out the following: non-primary residences, severe repetitive loss properties, business properties, and properties that have incurred flood-related damages where claims payments exceed the fair market value of the property. Policy rates will also increase based on one or all of the following circumstances: a change in ownership; a lapse in insurance coverage; a mapped change in flood risk; or substantial damage or improvement to a building.

The new rates (premiums) will reflect the full flood risk on an insured building.

ABFE Implications

The new advisory BFEs will not supersede the zones or elevations currently in effect; premiums will continue to be rated based on the current effective flood insurance rate map (FIRM). Advisory flood elevations and flood risk zones may be reflected in future Flood Insurance Rate Maps, affecting minimum building requirements and flood insurance premiums. Insurance premiums will adjust to reflect changing risks.

As noted in previous Beachcomber articles, FEMA offers a program to help homeowners mitigate the expense of bringing their home into compliance. This program, called Increase Cost of Compliance (ICC), would grant up to $30,000 to NFIP flood insurance policy holders in high-risk areas (V zone) to bring their home into compliance with their community’s floodplain ordinance – if their structure has been declared substantially damaged from a flooding event (Sandy). ICC funds can help pay for flood proofing, elevation, relocation or demolition. The ICC benefit only allows a homeowner to build to compliance with the community’s current ordinance.

Building Practices

Substantially damaged structures must be rebuilt with the lowest floors elevated to the Advisory BFE plus freeboard (1 to 2 feet based on community standard); and must be rebuilt to V zone standards if located in V or Coastal A zones. Owners who voluntarily elevate a non-substantially damaged structure to or above Advisory BFEs will recoup higher rebuilding costs with lower flood insurance premiums.

Floodplain Management

FEMA will use the highest floodplain management standard in grant decision. Advisory BFEs may have “higher initial costs but lower long term costs.” Compliance will reduce the vulnerability of structures to flooding and flood damage.

There are many issues still to be answered with FEMA and the proposed advisory plans. It is a fluid situation and readers should maintain contact with their municipal officials, particularly their construction office.

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