Brigantine officials reject FEMA advisory plan

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Mayor ‘can’t accept’ proposed changes, plans to appeal new zone designations

Santa Claus visited Brigantine over the weekend and left city officials a lump of coal – the new FEMA Advisory Base Flood Elevation (ABFE) plan – in their Christmas stocking. It is important to emphasize that this is an advisory plan, sent to the municipality for study, review and comment.

Tuesday evening, Dec. 18, a crowd of more than 200 Brigantine residents gathered at the Brigantine North School to have the plan explained to them, and to question FEMA representatives about the effect on their homes and lives.

Most had questions about the new flood plan after viewing it on FEMA’s website, www.region2coastal.com. The site allows viewers to plug in their address to confirm if their property is in an A zone, the new “Coastal A” zone or the dreaded “V” (velocity) zone.

City officials received the map and put it under review by a committee which included Mayor Phil Guenther, Councilmen DeLucry and Pullella, City Manager Jennifer Blumenthal, City Engineer Ed Stinson, Construction Official Rich Stevens, Public Works Superintendent Ernie Purdy, City Solicitor Tim Maguire, City Planner Lance Landgraf, Planning Board Chairman Mark Coyne and Attorney Hance Jacquett.

“We have serious concerns” about the proposed plans was the comment from Guenther, who stressed that the plan was advisory.

Guenther said that he had been in touch with the Governor’s office, U.S. Representative Frank LoBiondo’s chief of staff, County Executive Dennis Levinson, and U.S. Senator Robert Menendez in a conference phone call.

FEMA representatives Steve Melnick, Kingsley Johnson and SBA representative Michael Flores were in attendance.

Melnick explained that the plan was advisory and most probably would not be adopted for two years.

“These things are fluid and are not written in stone,” Melnick said. “[Flood premiums] will have to go up. The program [national flood insurance] needs to pay for itself.”

Flood insurance will start to go up for secondary homes in 2013 and primary homes in 2014. FEMA started a new process of calculating the flood insurance based on actuarial data. This means that people in mountainous areas will see a decrease in flood insurance but shore communities will see an increase.

Mayor Guenther stressed that this was the beginning of the process and that city officials will have to appeal the plan.

“This could have the effect of decimating the community in Brigantine. Approximately 3,000 homes would be affected by the change,” the mayor said. “Our principal concern is about the coastal designation recommended for the entire island.”

Previously, V zones had been restricted to beachfronts, but the new advisory shows major areas on the north end, particularly in the golf course area, in new V zones. A V zone property would need to be raised and placed on pilings with breakaway walls at the ground level. The cost to do so would be prohibitive – a fact acknowledged by Melnick.

The new maps recommend homes in the V zone have a 12- to 13-foot base elevation. City Engineer Ed Stinson stated that in V zones “the bottom of the lowest horizontal structural member” – a cross beam or girder – must be 1 foot above the base elevation.

In A zones, the bottom of the lowest insured item (ductwork for example) must be above base elevation.

“This is not going to happen next week, next month or next year,” said FEMA representative Kingsley Johnson, who emphasized that the new elevations are advisory, not official.

Current flood insurance rates will continue based on the existing flood map, but are planned to adjust in 2014. However, if a homeowner allows their flood insurance to lapse, they will be subject to immediate increases.

Many questions were raised by the audience. One resident disagreed with Johnson’s statement that Brigantine had suffered a storm surge of 13 feet, stating emphatically that it had maxed out at 10.5 feet. Others questioned if the new plan had been based on that surge factor.

City Engineer Ed Stinson clarified that the new flood plan had been in the works for years, but was released due to the results of Superstorm Sandy and the immediate need for the island to rebuild. The current plan, produced in the mid-1980s, is being revised based on new modeling and new technology.

“We can’t accept what’s being proposed,” said Guenther, who said the committee will not take any action at this time based on the preliminary maps.

The meeting left those present with more questions than answers, but the mayor stressed that the committee was focused on getting those answers as soon as FEMA can provide.

That may not help those who need to rebuild now and feel they are between a rock and a hard place. Faced with escalating costs to rebuild or raise their homes, it’s possible some could choose to walk away.

Property owners should be aware that this plan is the first step in a long journey – a journey that may take more than a year to complete.

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