Wildwood defiant on FEMA maps

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FEMA News Photo by Bill Koplitz FEMA News Photo by Bill Koplitz

WILDWOOD — Commissioners say they refuse to adopt the current FEMA advisory base flood elevation maps as they stand.

“I refuse to adopt any map that says that the back bay could see three feet of wave action,” Mayor Ernie Troiano Jr. said at the May 8 commissioner’s meeting.

However, if Wildwood commissioners do not adopt the maps, residents will not be eligible for grants to raise their homes and FEMA mitigation funds, according to Lawrence Hanja, a spokesman with the state Department of Environmental Protection. 

“If the town doesn’t pass an ordinance, they won’t be eligible for Increased Cost of Compliance grants or other federal mitigation aid,” he said.

In a later interview, Troiano called that “borderline criminal.”

“That’s sort of like holding the community hostage,” he said, when contacted Wednesday about FEMA’s position. He added that the maps are flawed, a position he has stated previously, and that many other seashore communities take issue with the back bay V-zones.

However, he said he may change his mind when new working maps are released.

“I’ll look at the revised maps and maybe I’ll have a revised opinion,” he said.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency released advisory base flood elevation maps after Hurricane Sandy to inform those who were in the process of rebuilding what their new base flood elevations could be. According to the agency, the maps had been in the works for years before they were released to the public. When the maps were released, many local officials and residents took issue with them because bayfront properties had been placed in the velocity, or V, zones, which FEMA says can expect to not only flood, but also see waves of three feet. Properties in a V-zone must be built to a higher base-flood elevation level or face substantial increases in flood insurance rates.

On Jan. 24, Gov. Chris Christie signed an executive order that all new construction or reconstruction of substantially damaged properties were to comply with the new advisory base flood elevation levels.

Confusion about this action and how the new maps will affect those who don’t have to rebuild or repair after Sandy has caused property owners and local administrations much concern.

According to Hanja, when Christie signed that order, he made those maps the state’s standard for building elevations in New Jersey. That means that by law, municipalities cannot have new construction build to a lower elevation than what is stated in the ABFE maps.

Troiano said that the state is encouraging municipalities to adopt the maps by May 29. Cape May adopted the advisory maps in April, and Mayor Ed Mahaney said that the adoption did not waive Cape May’s rights to challenge the maps once they become preliminary.

However, Troiano said during a discussion at the most recent commission meeting that Wildwood would not adopt the maps as they are now.

“As it sits it will not be adopted,” he said.

Troiano said that he believed the maps to be flawed, and that others felt the same.

Stewart Farrell, with the Stockton College Coastal Research Center, has stated that the maps are flawed and has submitted his opinion to FEMA, the city’s engineer, Mark DeBlasio, said.  Farrell is used by many coastal municipalities to survey the beaches.

“That V-zone on the back bay is driving everyone crazy,” Troiano said.

Bob Martin, commissioner of the state Department of Environmental Protection, has said that the DEP expects FEMA to make changes to the v-zone, and that many V-zones will become less-stringent A-zones.

Sen. Bob Menendez said that he expects similar changes to the maps during a press conference Monday, and urged FEMA to release the revised “working” maps he said they had been working on.

“Like many people in New Jersey, I believe FEMA’s Advisory Base Flood Elevation maps were fundamentally flawed because they didn’t use comprehensive wave analysis to determine V-zone boundaries,” Menedez said in a prepared statement.  “The next set of maps, known as ‘working maps,’ will use the full wave analysis and as a result, I believe, will show significantly smaller V-zone areas than the ABFEs.”

During the Wildwood commissioners’ meeting, Commissioner Pete Byron questioned whether by not adopting the maps, they were putting the city at risk for a lawsuit from those building new construction in Wildwood.

Commissioner Tony Leonetti, who oversees the department of public safety, said that his department has been instructing people that right now they are “building at their own risk” because of confusion with the maps.

DeBlasio said he would look into the requirements further for the city before they proceed.

The next commissioners meeting is set for 3:30 p.m. May 22 at City Hall, 4400 New Jersey Ave.

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 wildwood.shorenewstoday.com.

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