Changes to flood zones in preliminary FEMA elevation maps could mean big changes for local shore towns, many of which could see large swaths of land designated as higher-risk “velocity,” or “V,” zones.
On Tuesday, residents in Brigantine were the first to get a chance to react to the proposed changes at a town hall meeting at the Brigantine North School. In the new maps, Brigantine is surrounded on three sides by new V zones.
“This could have the effect of decimating the community in Brigantine,” Brigantine Mayor Phil Guenther said he told a phone conference of mayors and public officials earlier Tuesday. “Approximately 3,000 homes would be affected by the change, as well as hurting the investment we’ve worked so hard to secure.”
Being in a V zone means that property owners would need to prepare for flooding resulting from high wave activity, while those in the A zone on the rest of the island would only have to meet requirements dealing with flooding storm surges. Residents may have to pay more for flood insurance, and new houses would be subject to much stricter building codes.
V zones are currently restricted to beachfronts, but the new maps include V zones that stretch along bayfronts and canals, cut across Brigantine at one point, and even stretch as far from the bay as Atlantic Avenue in Longport and Margate, where properties one block or more from the ocean would be in the high-wave velocity zone for flooding not from the ocean but the bay four blocks away, while beach-block properties would be outside the velocity zone.
At the town hall, Guenther said the committee formed to discuss the flood zone changes, which includes himself and councilmen Rick DeLucry and Tony Pullella, has “serious concerns” about the proposed maps.
“Our concerns are both about elevation, which is a minor one, but our principal concern is about the coastal designation recommended for the entire island,” Guenther said. “(The impact) for individuals presently contemplating raising their house and the overall impact on flood insurance rates for individuals in V zones, especially for individuals not contemplating raising their homes at this time.”
FEMA specialist Kingsley Johnson said Brigantine saw 13-foot storm surges on Oct. 29 at the height of the storm.
The new maps would recommend homes in the V zone to have a 12- to 13-foot base elevations for a 100-year storm, now called a “1 percent” storm, one that has 1 percent chance of happening every year. Homes in the A zone would have a recommendation of 9 to 11 feet.
What that means, city engineer Ed Stinson said, is that in V zones “the bottom of the lowest horizontal structural member” — a beam, for example — must be 1 foot above the base elevation. In A zones, the bottom of the lowest insured item must be above base elevation.
“These are advisory base flood elevations,” Johnson said. “They haven’t been adopted yet. There’s sure to be a lot of discussion. Typical advisory (changes) will be somewhere about two years in the future. This isn’t going to happen next week, next month or next year.”
If a home is someone’s primary residence, when their flood insurance turns over on or after 2014, “You’ll start to see a rate increase,” Johnson said. “Base flood elevations will have to go up. The federal flood insurance program has been a subsidized program … and that program will have to be actuarially sound, where it pays for itself with the premiums brought into it.”
Outgoing Councilman Bob Solari questioned how people already hard hit by the storm — or in some cases, not hard-hit — will be able to meet those standards.
“How are you going to raise a home in a V zone and put pilings under it?” Solari asked. “You’re giving people false hope , saying they could get $30,000 (in grants) to raise their home. It’ll probably be another $20,000 to $25,000 after that. … A lot of people can barely make their mortgage payments. You can’t ask people to put in another $30,000 to $40,000 to raise their house.”
Solari added that many people were already starting to add pilings and wouldn’t be sure if their zone would change.
“I totally agree with you,” FEMA insurance expert Stephen Melnick said. “I don’t know how you’re going to raise the structures. The fact of the matter is, I don’t know how you’re going to put in pilings, based on the closeness of each dwelling to each other. … The answer I do have is that the money will be available (if you qualify), and that will not fund 50 percent or 40 percent of raising houses. We can tell you, as it stands now, rates will go up for flood insurance.”
Guenther said he expects that council will not take any action based on the preliminary maps and would wait to see what the final maps would be.
Right now, he said, “We can’t accept what’s being proposed.
“If you built your home to the standards that were in place at the time, from 1981, we can’t find a house built to those standards that had damage at a floor level. … The standards we did have stood up to the storm of the century,” Guenther said.
In Margate, the inclusion of almost the entire west end of the city in the velocity zone “will probably wind up changing that area of town dramatically,” Margate Mayor Mike Becker said. “It’s a very low-lying area, and a lot of older homes were built low to ground. ... A lot of people have been living in those homes a long time, many in bungalow-type homes low to the ground, and sustained a lot of damage. I just hope they have enough resources.”
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