Lower approves contract for Delaware Bay shoreline review

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Homes in V-zones will face much higher premiums

LOWER TOWNSHIP – Council last week unanimously approved a contract for Stockton College’s Coastal Research Center to gather and analyze data to challenge new maps prepared by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).

The $8,497.93 contract amount represents half of the full price for Dr. Stewart Farrell, executive director of the Coastal Research Center at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey. Lower Township is splitting the cost with Middle Township for the review of the Delaware Bay shoreline to try to “…push the V-zone where it belongs and not where (FEMA) put it,” said Councilman Jim Neville.

Homes in the V-zone would have to be elevated or face much higher flood insurance premiums.

According to Farrell, he and his staff propose to provide the townships with a “thoughtful review and analysis of the Middle and Lower Delaware Bay shoreline.”

“The work includes working with police using their (all-terrain vehicles) to identify and survey all shoreline hard structure found plus other issues that might impact where the V-zone ends on the shoreline,” according to Farrell.

Farrell is a professor of Marine Geology at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey and founded Stockton’s Coastal Research Center – which was established in 1981 and began its work locally by assisting Avalon with coastal issues that involved shoreline retreat. He has worked with local coastal municipalities to advise and assist on issues including beach and dune restoration, environmental issues, and most recently the new FEMA flood maps.

In 1996, the Coastal Research Center became the state’s designated resource for geotechnical data and studies on a wide variety of issues for 43 New Jersey coastal communities.

Delaware Bay communities first saw the latest FEMA maps, with its base flood elevations, at the end of the summer. The new maps place blocks abutting the bay into V-zones or A-zones.

V-zone property is in a coastal area and includes hazardous velocity with potential for three foot or higher waves. A-zones are classified as less hazardous, but flood-prone.

Each of the zones requires buildings to be elevated in order to qualify for affordable flood insurance.

“The maps, as released, are preliminary,” Farrell said. “So, the process is informal. This is the time to collect and review data, because nothing has been set.

“It is not really a matter of saying that someone got it wrong, or made a mistake. Now, it is a matter of showing that there is additional data that FEMA didn’t include in its survey of the area,” he added, noting that the approved maps for the Delaware Bay were anticipated to be released in March or April, 2014.

Farrell said there is a comment period and an appeal process.

“I expect they’ll need three months just to open the appeal letter that come in,” Farrell said, noting that premiums under the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) wouldn’t go into place until the appeals have been decided and the maps are final.

With Lower Township’s approval of his contract, Farrell said he didn’t expect to begin the land survey until after the first of the year.

“The on-the-ground data collection will provide more detailed information for FEMA to review, and to include in it models for determining V-zones,” he said.

FEMA’s preliminary maps were updated by means of aerial imaging and “sub-sampling” on the ground, he said.

“They put people out to look at ‘transects,’ which can be 800 to 1,200 feet apart,” Farrell said. “By putting our people on the ground to do a complete land survey, we can account for bulkheads, and structures and deviations that were not factored into the formula.

“So, again, it is not a matter of their data being wrong – but more, perhaps, a matter of their data not being complete,” he added.

Farrell said V-zones are areas where wave heights over land can reach three feet.

“Three foot is the magic number,” he said. “But, FEMA – in its mapping system – looked at any area that had four foot of water during an event, and assumed the three foot wave height could be created. That doesn’t account for structures, dunes, building, trees and manmade barrier, like bulkheads, which are involved in the surge and knock down wave height.”

Farrell said that the data collection would be undertaken by him and the staff of 11 at the Coastal Research Center, supplemented by another 10 students and part-time workers involved in the project.

“The quality of the data we collect can have a direct impact on the FEMA determinations,” he said.

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