Upper, other shore towns prepare to fight new flood maps

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STRATHMERE – Upper Township officials joined representatives from other Cape May County shore towns in Trenton Tuesday to seek clarification on an executive order signed by Gov. Chris Christie accepting Federal Emergency Management Agency advisory maps for base flood elevations.

Mayor Richard Palombo said local leaders were set to meet with the commissioners of the state DEP (Department of Environmental Protection), DCA (Department of Community Affairs), and representatives from the governor’s office.

“We have concerns about the advisory maps that were adopted under this executive order,” Palombo said. “We’re hoping to get some answers.”

Shore towns in Cape May and Atlantic counties are also preparing to appeal the new flood maps later this year, a process that could cost communities recovering from Hurricane Sandy millions more.

Residents in Strathmere have said the FEMA advisory maps will devastate their 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. That could force residents out of their homes, or result in a loss in home values, residents said.

Gov. Chris Christie signed emergency regulations accepting the advisory maps last month. 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.

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.

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 said one major concern with the new regulations is whether homeowners with non-conforming uses would have to receive zoning board approval when raising their homes. That could add thousands onto their costs, he said.

“The statute says non-conforming uses will have to go through the zoning board again,” Young said. “That doesn’t seem fair. It adds an additional burden for someone just raising their homes to avoid much higher insurance premiums.”

Young said he would like to see a change in the statute allowing homeowners who are raising non-conforming homes to meet new flood standards to bypass the zoning board.

Palombo said officials also had questions about the science behind the new maps.

“There are questions about possibly grandfathering homes that weren’t flooded in Sandy,” he said.

Shore towns are preparing to fight the new base flood elevations.

Young said Ocean City is looking to hire a coastal engineering firm as the first step in opposing the FEMA maps. Upper Township has $30,000 set aside in a contract with Dr. Stewart Farrell of the Coastal Research Center at Richard Stockton College, which could go toward new coastal survey data in Strathmere to be used in an appeal of the maps.

The total cost might be as high as $50,000 or $100,000, said township engineer Paul Dietrich.

“The areas we’re going to have real concern with are on the bay side,” he said.

Palombo said Cape May County municipalities also might join together to pay for coastal surveys, since most shore towns could appeal the flood maps. County officials will likely use Farrell’s services in that event, he said.

In the meantime, Upper Township is starting the process of rebuilding its dune system in Strathmere. On Monday, committee awarded a contract for $28,854 to Turfscapes, LLC of Williamstown for sand fence.

Palombo said the township received bids from more than 20 companies seeking the contract. The bids ranged from $28,000 to almost $200,000.

“Some people are obviously trying to take advantage of the hurricane,” he said.

Dietrich said Turfscapes, LLC has done work for Ocean City and Sea Isle City and it was done according to their specifications. He said the company will try to get the dune fence up before bird nesting season.


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