BRIGANTINE — New federal flood maps are expected within the next few days, but authorities already are asking residents in certain shore areas whether they may need to raise their homes as part of an effort to reduce future damage.
And if house damage from Hurricane Sandy totals at least 50 percent of the building's value, property owners could qualify for a federal grant that would pay up to $30,000 toward raising or relocating their house, said Federal Emergency Management Agency representative Stephen Melnick.
These prospects, along with detailed discussion for how residents can apply for the National Flood Insurance grant program, were the main topics at a Brigantine town meeting Tuesday night.
Nearly 250 residents attended, many taking notes and asking questions. The grant program, which is available only to those homeowners with federal flood insurance, has existed within FEMA for some time. It is designed to help property owners prevent future flood damage by raising their main living floor above base flood elevation.
The key sticking point, however, is exactly what that elevation will be. FEMA has completed the major revamp of the agency's flood maps, Brigantine Mayor Phil Guenther, but the new information has yet to be released publicly. Guenther said he scheduled Tuesday's meeting hoping the data would be available to Brigantine and other public officials, but the maps still are at the Governor's Office.
Guenther said he expects the maps will be released to the municipalities later this week or early next week. "We will release the information as soon as we can," he told the room.
"We're in a frustrating period," Brigantine City Manager Jennifer Blumenthal said. "When you're looking at rebuilding, you're looking at possibly (raising) your structure and at this point we don't have the levels."
Even if properties did not suffer enough damage to qualify for the Increased Cost of Compliance Coverage, Melnick said homeowners should still find a way to raise the first floor of the house to save on insurance costs. Federal flood insurance premiums are expected to rise at least 25 percent per year for the next few years due to new federal rules, a plan in place well before Sandy struck, Melnick said.
"If you live by the water and your elevation is low, you are going to pay a lot more in the future," Melnick said.
Brigantine resident Bill Amend said he attended the meeting as part of learning about which options exist as he prepares to restore his house — a typical Cape Cod house on cinder blocks, “which obviously are not high enough.” The house, he said, had between 18 inches and 24 inches of water in it during the storm and now he is trying to navigate the slow and confounding recovery process. “Right now, we're just doing fact finding and getting information to find out what's feasible and what's not.”
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