FEMA flood maps to indicate how high to rebuild damaged New Jersey coastal homes
Homeowners along New Jersey’s barrier islands should learn today if the federal government thinks they need to raise the elevation of their homes.
This morning FEMA will release its new advisory base flood elevation maps, which are meant to give homeowners an idea of what they will need to do — such as raising their homes — to avoid increases in their flood insurance premiums.
The new maps are informational only, but their contents will likely be included in the new FEMA flood risk maps expected to be released next summer.
The maps do not include information from Hurricane Sandy or consider future sea level rises. Instead said Ryan Pietramali, Risk Analysis Branch Chief for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the data come from new elevation mapping techniques, better storm modeling systems and 60 years of storm data.
“One of the things FEMA is working with coastal communities to do is — as they begin rebuilding, they are making decisions based on sound science,” Pietramali said during a conference call Friday.
Pietramali said that while some areas along the coast may be removed from certain flood zones, homeowners in many coastal areas will see their flood elevation increase between one and five feet. The average flood elevation increase in the 10 counties included in the data released today is 3.5 feet, Pietramali said. Base flood elevation is the level that the primary living space of a house needs to be at in order to avoid damage from a 100-year storm.
Richard Stockton College coastal engineering professor Stewart Farrell said some municipalities, such as Brigantine, Barnegat Light and Ocean City, may see some areas removed from the highest risk zones due to dune projects, inlet jetty construction and beach replenishment that began in the 1980s. Among the places he expects the changes is the center of Ocean City, near 20th Street and south, where beach replenishment projects have widened the area between the high tide line and houses by several hundred feet.
However, other areas will see the elevation requirements increase due to new data-collection methods. That’s because new ways to measure topography and predict floods are more accurate and the average sea level has risen since the last maps were drawn nearly 30 years ago, he said.
Brigantine Mayor Phil Guenther said he anticipates that neighborhoods in the north end of the island, particularly near the golf course, will see a substantial elevation increase. Many houses in the north end of Brigantine suffered severe flooding, Guenther said. Homeowners that suffered damage that equals or exceeds 50 percent of the value of the building will be forced to rebuild their house to meet new flood codes.
“This is crucial information for us,” Guenther said. “What we will look to do is find the most expedient way to adopt the new elevations and to amend our land use ordinance so that homeowners who have already expressed a desire to raise their homes will know exactly what elevations they need to place the structure.”
Guenther said that a newly formed committee looking at the rebuilding effort will meet for the second time Monday to discuss the maps and, as soon as Wednesday, the process could begin for incorporating the data into the zoning codes.
Marc Ferzan, head of the newly formed state Office of Recovery and Rebuilding, said officials in the Governor’s Office have been analyzing the data since receiving it several days ago.
“Having this preliminary information now will allow New Jersey to focus on smart rebuilding,” he said.
The advisory flood maps are the result of years of work to update FEMA’s flood risk maps, which last were compiled in 1983. Bill McDonnell, deputy director of the FEMA Hazard Mitigation Branch, said that the flood risk maps will be rolled out officially sometime in the next six to nine months, with the changes becoming official sometime in 2014.
Ten counties, including Cape May, Atlantic and Ocean, were included in the maps released and the new data affects 194 municipalities. The new maps will be posted at 7 a.m. at www.region2coastal.com
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