Atlantic County officials said they were optimistic after meeting Monday with state and federal representatives about controversial maps that could affect flood insurance rates and rebuilding efforts along the New Jersey shore.
The local representatives attended the closed-door meeting with staffers from Gov. Chris Christie’s office, the state Department of Environmental Protection and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The meeting was the first time local representatives got to sit down with the state and federal representatives since Christie adopted the FEMA advisory flood maps as the guideline for rebuilding in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.
“At this point, we don’t have a solution to the problem, but at least it’s on the radar,” said Sen. Jim Whelan, D-Atlantic.
Whelan said FEMA representatives stressed that the maps would be adjusted as new data was finalized and that municipalities would be providing information as the lengthy review process begins.
“For those people who are building new or above a major rehabilitation job, they should follow the guidelines. But the people just doing repairs, they may be OK to wait (for the next round of maps),” Whelan said.
Christie’s announcement Jan. 24 gave certainty to those whose houses suffered catastrophic damage because the information provided a guideline for how to rebuild from the ground up. However, the decision threw those whose houses suffered major damage but were still standing into a new level of uncertainty.
“I think we’re moving in the right direction,” Assemblyman Chris Brown, R-Atlantic, said of the meeting. “One of the things the Governor’s Office made clear was that the maps as adopted only apply to homes that were damaged 50 percent or greater.”
Brown said the state is trying to develop plans to use some of the billions of dollars in federal storm aid in grant programs to help homeowners rebuild to the new standards.
Christie spokesman Kevin Roberts said the Governor’s Office will hold similar meetings again with Atlantic County officials, as well as those from other storm-ravaged regions along the coast.
“From our perspective, we feel they were productive meetings. They (provided) answers and provided clarity,” Roberts said.
New home elevations recommended by the maps are an issue for many, but those whose houses were listed under newly expanded velocity zones, which require houses to be built on piling, were perhaps the most confused and frustrated.
The advisory maps base the velocity zones on elevation and do not contain data from a wave-analysis study, which takes into account dunes, bulkheads and other structures that could block the force of breaking waves. Preliminary maps that will be released sometime this summer will include that data. There later will be an extensive public information process as FEMA works toward adopting the maps for flood insurance rate purposes.
DEP spokesman Larry Hajna said the meeting was part of an effort to better explain what the advisory maps mean to municipal officials. On Monday evening, the agency released a three-page explanation of frequently asked questions for the public and municipal officials.
“Our goal here is to dispel some misconceptions about the path that we’re taking,” Hajna said.
Meanwhile, the county Board of Freeholders is scheduled to vote today on a resolution ask Christie to rescind his order to enact the guidelines.
The resolution states that the new standards do not take into account engineering such as dunes, seawalls and bulkheads, that in many cases it would not be possible to raise homes to the new standards, and residents would not be able to afford either the increased flood insurance payments or the cost of raising their homes.
Instead, the freeholders want the standards enacted only on new construction or substantial rehabilitation projects and adjusted standards for existing homes.
The meeting is scheduled for 4 p.m. at Longport Borough Hall, 2305 Atlantic Ave.
Staff writer Joel Landau contributed to this report.
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