New base flood elevations could be ‘worse than Sandy’ for Strathmere

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STRATHMERE – Residents in Strathmere said they fear new Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) advisory maps for base flood elevations will devastate this small seashore community and other barrier island towns on the Jersey Shore.

Homes that are not raised to the new elevations could face annual insurance premiums of $31,000. Because of that, the advisory maps have the potential to be worse than Hurricane Sandy for many residents, said Lynn Fayter.


“I’ve been out of my home since the storm and I’m saying that,” she said. “We were in an A zone and now we’re in a V zone. The church (Strathmere United Methodist Church) is even in a V zone and that’s on Ocean Drive.”

Gov. Chris Christie signed emergency regulations accepting the advisory maps last week. The regulations adopted requirements and procedures for New Jersey residents and businesses to construct, reconstruct, relocate and elevate buildings and other structures in flood hazard areas.

“It is absolutely critical that we take this opportunity to rebuild New Jersey smarter and stronger in the aftermath of Sandy,” Christie said last week. “By doing so, we’re helping residents and businesses, who have endured so much, to get back on their feet while at the same time ensuring that rebuilding occurs as quickly as possible, without costly red tape slowing this process down for our families and small businesses. As New Jersey recovers from Sandy, utilizing the best available data provided in these FEMA maps will give our communities the ability to rebuild with the least possible risk from future storms moving forward.”

In New Jersey, there are over 8.4 million residents, and approximately 3.8 million homes in flood hazard areas.

“If homes had been built to these standards prior to Sandy, it is fair to say that property damage would have been significantly less,” said DEP Commissioner Bob Martin.

The new FEMA advisory base flood elevation maps move more parts of Strathmere into the V zone, and recommend V zone construction practices in areas still designated as A zone.

The V or velocity zone is the area in which construction is at greatest risk from floods and waves.

In Strathmere and Whale Beach, beachfront homes in the V zone would have to be built at a 14-foot elevation to withstand a 100-year storm. Some homes on Bayview Drive would have to have a 12-foot elevation.

Most of the homes in Strathmere, which remain in the A zone, would have to build at an 11-foot elevation, but the advisory maps recommend building to the V zone standards.

Charles Kona, of Kona & Associates, a planning and engineering firm in Tuckahoe, said when a governmental agency “recommends” something, it eventually becomes mandatory.

“They’re basically remapping entire island communities as V zones,” he said. “It’s a death sentence.”

Kona said that under the new regulations, commercial properties will have to build to higher elevations as well, or face much higher insurance rates.

“Commercial establishments would have to be elevated,” he said. “You cannot flood-proof in the V zone. But you can’t get people to go from the street level to the second floor for retail or a restaurant. It doesn’t work.”

Because of reforms to the National Flood Insurance program, which regulate that flood insurance premiums be determined by actual risk, if residents do not conform to these new elevation standards they could see a substantial increase in their flood insurance premiums.

For instance, if a property owner is currently in an A zone, but at four feet below the base flood elevation, and is reclassified as a higher threat V zone and takes no action, that property will be rated at a higher risk and be subject to an approximate annual premium (phased in) of up to $31,000.

In contrast, if the owner were to rebuild to the suggested base flood elevation, the annual premium (phased in) would be approximately $7,000.

If that same resident rebuilds two feet above the base flood elevation for their new zone, the annual premium would be approximately $3,500, a savings of up to $27,500 annually.

Solicitor Dan Young called the advisory maps “very aggressive” and said the state association of realtors and the state league of municipalities have significant concerns. Unfortunately, the maps are being introduced right after Hurricane Sandy, he said.

“It’s hard to argue if your home just got flooded that it shouldn’t be raised up,” Young said.

Fayter said many residents don’t have the money to raise their homes and might be forced to sell. She said residents in Strathmere aren’t getting any young either, noting that it will be hard for some of them to climb 15 steps to get into their home.

She urged Upper Township Committee to join Ocean City and other communities in fighting the new regulations.

“This thing is a freight train,” Kona said. “Try to grab a hold of it now before it gets started.”

Committee members said they would hold a community meeting to discuss the new regulations with FEMA officials. Committee could also hire a coastal engineer to help it fight the maps, officials said.

Engineer Paul Dietrich said the advisory maps would be formally given to municipalities later this year. That is when towns can start appealing, he said.

“FEMA expects a lot of appeals,” he said. “They used approximates of the wave run up in mapping the V zones. From talking to people there, they feel that 90 percent of the A zones are correct, but the V zones may shrink in size.”

Dietrich said the township is also applying to FEMA’s Hazard Mitigation Grant Program (HMGP). If accepted, homes listed in the flood zone would be eligible for federal grants to be raised.


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