New Jersey barrier island flood maps overdue for updates
Flood zone maps for New Jersey’s coastal towns, which determine which homeowners may be required to purchase flood insurance, haven’t had a major update by the federal government for almost 30 years.
But next year, Federal Emergency Management Agency plans to complete a massive project, using the latest laser technology, to finally redo the flood maps for the first time in a generation.
That could mean that many beach-block property owners who have never been compelled to buy flood insurance may suddenly find themselves in a designated flood zone, although after Sandy, when many saw their streets and basements flooded for the first time in decades, it may be a designation hard to argue against.
“When you (redo maps), people are now forced to buy flood insurance that didn’t need it before, and they look at elected officials thinking it’s their fault,” said Andy Anderson, with Anderson Insurance in Stafford Township and on Long Beach Island. “Either they didn’t protect them, or they did this program for nefarious reasons. ... But it’ll be done by engineers, not insurance people.”
Barbara Lynch, a specialist with FEMA Region 2, said that a preliminary set of new maps, based on the latest technology and taking into account the most recent information on storm surge activity, should be delivered to New Jersey shore towns by the end of next summer.
“There was no countywide map for Atlantic (and other counties). In the past, there were numerous studies, many done by communities. But this new map would be the first countywide map.”
The map will be made using LIDAR, or Light Detection And Ranging, a surveying system in which a laser shot from an airplane is used to determine land elevation to within 6 inches, Lynch said.
“If you did a three-man survey, you’d get to even finer gradations,” Lynch added. “But this is the most cost-efficient way to get coastal areas. The areas that are first up for Region 2 are the New Jersey coast, the harbor around New York City and Long Island.”
The new preliminary maps could be vastly different than the current ones, Lunch said, as the Jersey Shore has changed drastically in 30 years. Ventnor’s map, for instance, dates from 1983.
“There’s been a great deal of development since 1983, new highways, etc.,” Lynch said. “Some areas that were in the floodplain on the old map may not be on the new map. And some areas not in the flood area in the old map may be in the new map.”
Most beach towns have at most three zones: classified as “V,” “A” and “B” zones.
The “V” zones, or “velocity” water zones, are what beaches are categorized, where flooding can be expected from wave activity.
The “A” zones, or “special flood hazard” areas, are zones that could expect flooding from a 100-year flood — floodwater levels that are expected every 100 years on average. Property owners in that zone with a federally-backed mortgage are required to purchase flood insurance.
Then there are the “B” zones, the areas on barrier islands just high enough above sea level to be outside the 100-year flood zone. Unlike in A zones, people with homes in B zones aren’t required to buy flood insurance if they have a federally-backed mortgage.
Anderson described “B” zones as essentially having “unknown flood problems” compared with A zones — and since several such zones saw flooding during Hurricane Sandy, in addition to heavy depletion of the nearby beaches, their flood problems may have become a little less unknown.
In Ventnor, the “B” zone runs along Atlantic Avenue, the closest avenue to the beach and therefore the farthest from the volatile bay. But this past week, furniture and other furnishings were sitting on beach-block sidewalks just like anywhere else in town.
“Some basements did get wet,” said Ventnor Construction Code Official Jim Agnesino. “I think a lot of it is these homes should be elevated enough to be safe, due to the fact that the grade elevation is so high. If the grade is 9 feet, you’ve got to have a half-decent crawl space so that the first floor is at 12 to 13 feet. ... And even though you don’t have to (buy flood insurance), they pretty much do add things like flood vents.”
At the corner of Atlantic and South Princeton avenues, John Scipione Jr. said that he was one of the lucky ones, with the water in the street not reaching into his property.
“But people on the other side lost (a lot),” Scipione said. “And some of those homes made it through the storm of ’62 with no water in their basements.”
In Margate, only a tiny sliver of Atlantic Avenue just south of the Ventnor border is in the “B” zone. The majority of the town is just at or above 5 feet, but Atlantic Avenue rises from about 6 to 7 feet at Lucy the Elephant up to the “B” zone, where according to the current elevation map, the elevation just barely reaches above 11 feet.
Margate Code Official Jim Galantino has a feeling it may not stay that way.
Even before the storm, Galantino said, he believe the remapping would remove the “B” zone designations.
“It’s like building a little sandcastle on the beach. When the tide comes up, it just washes it away,” he said.
Margate, for its part, participates in FEMA’s Community Rating System, in which a town can essentially earn credits to save its residents money on flood insurance if it meets certain requirements. Margate mandates 11-foot elevations for new construction — the FEMA minimum is 10 feet — and requires flood vents, which allow water to go into the crawl space and pass out the other side, distributing any floodwater evenly and preventing backups.
Thanks to the CRS program, homes that meet those criteria with flood insurance bills between $800 to $1,000 per year could see deductions lowering them to about $500 to $600.
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