CAPE MAY — The city plans to seek “full reimbursement” for extra flood insurance costs incurred because part of the new Cape May Convention Hall was built below base flood elevation.
City Solicitor Tony Monzo said the city has placed the architect, engineers, construction manager and general contractor for the project on notice and instructed them to advise their insurance carriers there could be a claim.
There are no lawsuits as yet, and Monzo said the city hopes to work with the firms that built the new $10.5 million facility that opened last year on Memorial Day weekend. The first step is getting a report from the Federal Emergency Management Agency on how to solve the problem.
“The objective of the city is to get 100 percent compliance with no impact on flood insurance premiums,” Monzo said.
City officials met with FEMA officials March 8 to discuss the flood elevation certificate for the building that showed the lowest structural member was only 8.51 above base flood elevation, or BFE. FEMA recommends construction on the beachfront be 15 feet above the BFE and even pushes an extra three feet called “freeboard” that allows waves to pass through.
The city recently got flood insurance for the building, and it came in at $101,000 for $8 million in coverage, which by one estimate is four times higher than it would have been if the building was constructed above 15 feet.
Trenton Avenue resident Charles Hendricks has been raising questions about flood insurance and made several public records requests for documents relating to it. Hendricks came to City Council’s Tuesday night meeting, but after Monzo spoke, he tore up his list of questions and was happy to hear the city was taking action. He called it a breakthrough in his monthslong quest to get answers.
Hendricks and several other residents have been raising questions since November when it was disclosed that the hall had no flood insurance when Hurricane Sandy hit on Oct. 29.
The main issue concerns a 100-square-foot room holding mechanical systems, including a fire-suppression system and a sump pump. This room is at 8.51 feet above BFE while the rest of the hall is at 15.21 feet.
“The remainder of the building has a finished floor elevation of 15.21 feet, which exceeds the FEMA requirement of 15 feet,” Monzo said.
Monzo said the city is waiting to hear from FEMA on whether eliminating this room, or possibly moving it higher, would solve the problem. It makes sense to have the sump pump at a low point and Monzo said it may solve the problem by moving the fire-suppression system higher. Monzo said FEMA may want the entire room removed or filled in.
FEMA actually has no regulatory authority over construction, but its elevation standards do impact flood insurance premiums. Monzo said FEMA has offered to provide technical assistance.
The hall did not suffer any flooding during Hurricane Sandy, but the city built a sand dune in front of it as the storm was approaching. City officials said they only found out about the lack of flood insurance days before the storm.
At that point the city hustled to get insurance and ultimately selected three policies with different levels of coverage on the building and contents. Hendricks and Beach Avenue resident Jim Testa looked into pricing of flood insurance and claimed the costs were as much as four times higher than they should be, an allegation city officials do not dispute.
Even if the problem is solved and insurance costs decline, Monzo said, the city plans to seek reimbursement for any extra costs incurred thus far.
The hall was built by Arthur J. Ogren Inc. of Vineland following designs by Pennsylvania-based Kimmel-Bogrette Architecture. Monzo said Kimmel-Bogrette farmed out engineering work to several firms with a structural engineer determining the level of the building and a mechanical engineer designing the fire suppression system. The whole project was built under construction manager Hunter Roberts Construction Group, LLC.
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