New regs cause fear in Wildwood

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Challenge considered for flood elevation rules 

NORTH WILDWOOD- Because Gov. Chris Christie signed emergency regulations accepting the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s advisory maps for base flood elevations, some officials in the Wildwoods fear these new standards for building will be disastrous for their municipalities.

“I don’t agree with where they are putting those zones,” North Wildwood Mayor Bill Henfey said. “My father always told me, for every action, there is going to be a reaction. I’m concerned that the reactions to this are going to be far reaching.”

He called Christie’s decision a “knee jerk reaction” to Hurricane Sandy. 

The regulations approved on Jan. 24 by Christie adopted requirements and procedures for New Jersey residents and businesses to construct, reconstruct, relocate and elevate buildings and other structures in flood hazard areas.

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.

The new FEMA advisory base flood elevation maps move bay areas of the Wildwoods, as well as other barrier island towns, into the “V” or velocity zone- the area in which construction is at greatest risk from floods and waves. In some areas of North Wildwood, according to the map, the V-zone now stretches from the bay to New Jersey Avenue.

Henfey said he was most concerned about residents who will now have more expensive flood insurance on their homes in the city. He said he was worried that those residents who will face greater premiums may opt to sell their beach homes simply because they can not afford the insurance.

“These are some of the reactions I’m afraid people will have,” Henfey said. “How are we going to survive?”

Currently, the construction in the city must be built to 11 feet above sea level in the V-zone, Henfey said. The advisory maps suggest in some zones that the base flood elevation remain at 11 feet to withstand a 100-year storm. To withstand a 500-year storm, FEMA advises that these properties should be built to 14 feet.

According to an example from FEMA, these new elevations can have a significant effect on insurance rates.

If a property owner is currently in an A zone, but at 4 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 2 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.

North Wildwood, compared to other municipalities on the beachfront in New Jersey, was lucky when Sandy hit. While some structures were damaged by the storm, Henfey said that homes and buildings that were built to the original FEMA standards did not see any damage from the storm.

“So, why do we need to go higher?” Henfey said. “I get making them better, but don’t punish people.”

According to Christie, he chose to adopt the advisory maps to ensure that the state will be prepared if a storm such as Sandy hits the area again.

“It is absolutely critical that we take this opportunity to rebuild New Jersey smarter and stronger in the aftermath of Sandy. That’s why today I am approving emergency regulations being proposed by the Department of Environmental Protection to help fast-track the rebuilding process,” Christie said in announcing the decision. “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.”

West Wildwood, a bay-front municipality on Five Mile Island, is entirely in the V-zone, except for a municipal building and a few sections of unoccupied land, according to the advisory maps. Historically, the municipality was in the A-zone, so essentially every resident must elevate his or her house.

According to borough administrator Chris Ridings, the current regulation is unfair to those in West Wildwood.

“Clearly the houses need to go up,” Ridings said, “But to have the added costs from a V-zone is quite unfair to these people.”

Ridings said that West Wildwood does see “traditional” back bay flooding, and did have some homes damaged from Sandy. However, most of those were older homes not up to elevation standards set in the 1970s by FEMA. In West Wildwood, many homes will have to be retrofitted to meet these new standards, Ridings said, which currently set the base flood elevation at 12 feet.

Even with a $30,000 increased cost of compliance built into flood insurance policies, Ridings said this would not be enough aid to those looking to raise their homes in West Wildwood.

“We have a lot of blue collar folks here that don’t have the funds to cover those costs,” he said.

Ridings said he and other officials in West Wildwood planned to challenge the new advisory maps, and hoped to do so with other neighboring municipalities, before the new elevation standards are set and adopted later this year.

Christie Rotondo can be emailed at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or you can comment on this story at

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